Understanding Type 1 Diabetes

by Medical Group of Pennsylvania

Understanding Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes (T1D), formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is a chronic autoimmune condition that renders the body unable to produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. In recent years, scientists have made great strides in understanding what causes type 1 diabetes and how it affects the body, but many of the old myths are still thought to be true.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Without these cells, people with T1D cannot produce insulin. As a result, sugar builds up in the blood instead of going into the cells where it's needed for energy. To address this condition, people with T1D must pump or inject insulin into their bodies and very carefully regulate their blood sugars to stay alive. There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes is Not a Lifestyle Disease

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. Risk factors for the disease include family history, age, geography and genetics. It is typically diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, but can be diagnosed in adulthood as well. About 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes and an estimated 40,000 people will be newly diagnosed each year in the U.S.

T1D Symptoms & Diagnosis

Many symptoms of T1D may not be immediately alarming including excessive thirst, frequent urination, increased appetite and headaches. But, there are more severe warning signs like fatigue and weakness, nausea and stomach pain, and rapid weight loss. Type 1 diabetes can be confused for the stomach flu or a virus, strep throat, a growth spurt or a urinary tract infection. A simple urine test or finger prick can confirm a diabetes diagnosis.

Managing Type 1 Diabetes

A T1D diagnosis requires patients to rethink the way they live their lives on a daily basis. In addition to daily insulin needs, people with T1D must carefully regulate their diets and exercise to keep insulin levels within the safe zone. Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of managing T1D. Understanding how food affects the body after a diagnosis will take time, but is the most critical aspect of keeping your insulin and sugar numbers in check.

The Future of T1D

There is no cure for type 1 diabetes – yet. However, a cure has long been thought possible and scientists are getting closer. Some scientists are working towards a vaccine to stop the immune system from attacking the body’s insulin-producing cells to prevent T1D from birth. Research is also focused on creating transplants for current Type 1 diabetes patients to potentially decrease the effects or reverse the diagnosis. Another promising option comes from using implants with cells derived from stem cells to manage the body’s insulin response automatically.

For now, T1D is a lifelong diagnosis, but with careful monitoring and insulin injections, patients can still have a happy and fulfilling life.

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