Also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes is a condition wherein the pancreas does not produce the needed amounts of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that aids in the movement of glucose into the different cells throughout the body.
Glucose is sugar that the body uses for instant energy. However, for the body to use glucose appropriately, it has to have insulin. When the glucose accumulates in the bloodstream, it may lead to increased blood sugar levels, which may lead to serious health complications.
Why does a person develop type 1 diabetes? This type of diabetes is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body’s immune system regards the islet cells and beta cells in the pancreas as dangerous to the body. As a result, the antibodies attack these cells, reducing the levels of insulin released by the pancreas. In some cases, the pancreas can’t produce insulin anymore because of the extent of the damage.
Type 1 diabetes is less common than the other type of diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 1.25 million American adults and children had type 1 diabetes in 2015.
It is very important to determine the signs of type 1 diabetes so that early detection may increase the chances of recovery, even if the disease is incurable. People who have type 1 diabetes may suffer from these signs and symptoms:
- Excessive thirst (polydipsia)
- Frequent urination (polyuria)
- Increased hunger (polyphagia)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
- Frequent bladder, skin and gum infections
- Unexplained fatigue
- Wounds that do not heal, or may take longer than usual to heal
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
- Reduced blood pressure
- Low body temperature
Autoimmune diseases and their causes remain unclear up to this day despite the advancements in the medical field. It’s still a mystery for many scientists on why and how the immune system attacks the body’s cells.
In type 1 diabetes, the antibodies attack the beta cells, which are in charge in producing insulin. Insulin plays a pivotal role in the delivery of glucose, which is the main energy source of cells, to the different tissues of the body.
However, even though it isn’t entirely clear what triggers the development of type 1 diabetes, some experts link the disease to genetic factors. It could be an inherited susceptibility for the immune system to turn against itself.
Like any other disease, genetics could influence the susceptibility of a person to a certain disease. Some people are genetically predisposed to having type 1 diabetes while others are not. Some studies have pointed that type 1 diabetes can develop in individuals who have a particular human leukocyte antigen (HLA) complex on chromosome 6.
Other possible causes of type 1 diabetes are the exposure of the individual to a virus that may trigger autoimmunity.
Though these risk factors have not been clear, they are the ones tentatively identified.
Genetics or family history play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes. If you have a family member or relative with this condition, the risk you have of developing the same condition increases. There are various genes that were tentatively linked to the condition. However, many believe that not everyone with the genetic predisposition can develop this type of diabetes. Other factors could also trigger the development of the illness.
The risk of developing diabetes increases with age. Individuals who are 40 years old and above are more likely to develop diabetes.
The race that is at a greater risk of type 1 diabetes are white people, then followed by black people, Asians, and Hispanic people.
Though the cause is unknown, those who are away from the equator are at a greater risk of developing type 1 diabetes than those who live near the equator.
Prolonged increase in blood sugar levels could lead to various complications, most of these are life-threatening.
Diabetes increases the risk of having coronary heart disease (CHD) or stroke by up to five times. This disease usually develops when the blood sugar levels are not controlled and managed.
When there is a prolonged increase in blood glucose levels, there is a higher risk of having atherosclerosis, which is the narrowing of the blood vessels as a result of plaque buildup.
When the blood vessels are narrowed, you may suffer from angina, a type of chest pain caused by the lack of blood supply and oxygen to the heart muscles. If this is not managed, it may lead to myocardial infarction or heart attack, which is one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
Prolonged poorly controlled blood sugar levels may lead to diabetic retinopathy, which results from the weakening of the retina caused by high blood sugar and high blood pressure. When this condition is not treated or managed properly, it leads to a more serious condition called proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
In the long run, when the blood glucose levels are not managed well, it may lead to permanent vision loss or blindness.
Increased blood sugar levels could lead to kidney disease or diabetic nephropathy. When this condition worsens, you might need to undergo dialysis or kidney transplant
Diabetic neuropathy or nerve damage happens as a result of prolonged uncontrolled diabetes. This condition could lead to the loss of feeling in the hands and feet. This results from the reduced circulation of blood to the extremities.
Impaired Wound Healing
Increased blood sugar levels also impair wound healing in these areas, so even small wounds could lead to permanent injuries if not treated promptly. Because of nerve damage combined with poor circulation in the extremities, especially the feet could lead to serious infections and eventually necrosis, or cell death. This is the reason why many people with diabetes have their foot amputated.
Today, there are various ways to diagnose type 1 diabetes. Aside from a complete medical history taking by a licensed doctor, he may recommend diagnostic examinations to see if the blood sugar levels are increased.
Fasting blood glucose test
This test measures the level of blood sugar after eight hours of fasting, which means the patient can’t eat or drink, except water. However, this test is not always reliable because it should be done in the morning.
Random blood glucose test
This test measures the blood sugar level at an unspecified time, and there is no need for fasting. This test can give a glimpse of your blood sugar level, but it’s not that accurate compared to fasting blood glucose test.
Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test
This is considered a very accurate diagnostic test for diabetes because it measures the average blood sugar level of the past two to three months. It specifically measures the percentage of blood sugar that is attached to hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in the red blood cells.
When you have diabetes, the doctor may also conduct tests to check for autoantibodies, especially for those with suspected type 1 diabetes. This test will see if the cause of your high blood glucose levels is autoimmunity.
Like any other autoimmune disease, there is still no cure for type 1 diabetes. The treatment, however, aims to keep the blood sugar levels as normal as possible. Moreover, the treatment will control the symptoms and prevent the possible complications, which are considered the pitfall of many diabetes sufferers.
Since type 1 diabetes patients do not have insulin or have a little amount of insulin to facilitate the entry of glucose into the cells, there are many insulin preparations that are available to manage diabetes.
Insulin comes in various forms – injectable and oral preparations. The types of insulin are short-acting or regular, rapid-acting, long-acting and intermediate-acting (NPH).
Insulin can be administered through injections and an insulin pump. Insulin injections are also administered subcutaneously in the areas of the body where there is fat such as the stomach. Insulin pump therapy, on the other hand, is an alternative to injections. It uses an insulin pump wherein insulin is administered through a thin piece of tubing with a needle inserted under the skin.
Blood Sugar Monitoring
Depending on what type of insulin therapy you are enrolled to, you need to check and record the blood sugar levels several times a day. This will prevent the common fluctuations of blood sugar levels such as hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, which both may cause a wide array of complications and symptoms.
One way to control your blood sugar level is to make sure you’re eating the right kind of food. Limit the intake of carbohydrates and refined sugars. It’s important to consume nutritious, high-fiber, and low-fat foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important in diabetes management. Regular exercise is important to maintain a healthy body. Aim for about 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week.
There is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes. However, lifestyle modifications and early detection of the condition may help prevent the debilitating complications of type 1 diabetes. Moreover, living a healthy lifestyle even during the childhood years could help prevent the development of diabetes.
Today, experiments and studies are being conducted to prevent the further damage of the islet cells, which produces insulin in the pancreas.
Diabetes is a chronic disease, and when it’s not managed properly, it could lead to serious complications, wherein some are potentially-fatal. In fact, according to the American Medical Association, men who have type 1 diabetes lose about 11 years of longevity compared to those without the illness. For women, those with this condition have their lives cut short by about 13 years.