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Diabetes is a disease that affects your body’s ability to regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels—there are various types of diabetes, which you can read more about in our Diabetes Overview, here we focus on type 1. Previously referred to as juvenile diabetes because of its tendency to develop during childhood or adolescence, type 1 diabetes can actually develop at any age. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that allows for the movement of sugar (food) into the body’s cells, resulting in dangerously high levels of glucose in the blood that the body cannot convert into energy. This is thought to be caused by the body’s immune cells mistakenly attacking and destroying the insulin-producing Islet cells of the pancreas, though research on the exact cause is still ongoing.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation reports that as many as three million American have type 1 diabetes. The number of children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the U.S. each year is more than 15,000. Of the people in the U.S. who are living with type 1 diabetes, 85% are adults and 15% are children. The prevalence of type 1 diabetes in children and teens between 2001 and 2009 increased by 23%.
Lowered insulin levels are the underlying cause of all diabetes. Insulin is produced by the islet cells of the pancreas, which then circulate it to your body via the blood stream. In the presence of insulin, glucose (sugar) is able to transfer from the blood stream into the body cells, lowering the blood glucose level and providing the body’s cells with fuel for energy. In diabetic patients, there are several factors that can interfere with this process.
In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys Islet cells, lowering the amount of insulin produced and circulated in the body and blocking the transfer of glucose from the bloodstream to bodily cells. The cause of this defect is still unknown, though researchers suspect that genetics and/or exposure to particular viruses may contribute.
The risk factors for the developing diabetes differ from type to type. Below are the possible risk factors for Type 1 diabetes:
Diabetes can be diagnosed by measuring blood glucose levels. Consistently high blood glucose levels, combined with symptoms of fatigue, excessive thirst, and frequent urination indicate the lack of insulin and/or insulin resistance associated with diabetes.
The following tests can be used to determine blood glucose levels:
The process that destroys insulin-producing cells can take years and may not initially cause any symptoms. Researchers are still investigating what triggers this process, and why it is delayed for some and not for others. Regardless of when the process begins, once insulin production completely stops, type 1 diabetes usually appears suddenly and progresses quickly.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and think you may have diabetes, talk to your doctor.
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease for which there is no cure. However, careful monitoring of blood glucose levels and insulin injections can prevent or delay diabetes complications, and most patients with diabetes are able to lead normal, healthy lives. Complications can arise for even the most prudent of diabetes patients, so regular visits to the doctor are recommended. Thanks to advances in research and technology, the prognosis of patients with type 1 diabetes has improved considerably over the last 50 years.
When you maintain a healthy lifestyle, you are helping to control your diabetes.
Here are eight tips for living well with Type 1 diabetes:
Screening for type 1 diabetes is not a regular practice, as the symptoms present themselves rapidly and the disease is usually diagnosed and treated soon after symptoms appear.
There are no proven ways to prevent type 1 diabetes, however with proper attention to your condition and blood glucose levels, you should be able to prevent the symptoms from interfering with daily life.
The treatment for diabetes can vary from type to type. Below are the main medications for each type of diabetes:
Insulin is the primary medication used to treat type 1 diabetes. Up until the 1980s, medical grade insulin was made from purified pig or cow insulin. Today, medical grade insulin is made in laboratories using genetic recombinant technology to allow pancreatic cells in laboratory cultures to produce insulin.
There are four different types of insulin that can be taken. These are:
Insulin is administered by injection several times throughout the day so that it can avoid the digestive enzymes of the stomach, which would otherwise destroy it. Insulin injections come in the form of:
Symlin (pramlintide) is an injectable medication that is always used in combination with insulin and never alone. Symlin is a synthetic version of the body’s natural amylin, a peptide hormone co-secreted with insulin by the pancreas. Symlin is used to control high blood sugar that can occur after meals.
Diet is also key to keeping diabetes under control. A low carbohydrate diet is often recommended; by consuming fewer carbohydrates there will be less glucose in the bloodstream, which lowers the required level of insulin to control the body’s blood sugar.
Artificial pancreas are an upcoming treatment option that is currently in clinical trials. This will be an implanted device that simultaneously measures glucose and delivers appropriate insulin continuously. Clinical trials are promising and this new treatment could provide very effective glucose control and avoid many diabetic health complications.
Many people with diabetes use combinations of medications and insulin to better control and manage their condition. Your physician and the other members of your care team will help determine what is best for you.
There are several treatments that have been proven to be effective and safe complementary treatments. These include:
According to The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is no evidence that herbal supplements can help to control diabetes or its complications despite several studies that have attempted to prove their worth.
Herbal supplements that have not yet been proven to be effective are:
Many people with diabetes live happy, healthy lives. In order to keep your symptoms in check and your blood glucose levels within range, follow these tips:
If you suspect that you have diabetes or you find that you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms of diabetes, you should talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to run the proper diagnostic tests and determine whether or not diabetes is causing your symptoms.
If you have already been diagnosed with diabetes, call your doctor immediately if:
Call 911 emergency services right away if you have symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) a life-threatening condition that develops when the body is not getting enough insulin. These include:
If you suspect you have diabetes, schedule a visit with your Primary Care Physician (PCP) for a complete physical to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. Your doctor will then give you referrals to specialists. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), your diabetic care team should include a:
Visit the American Association of Diabetes Educators online for information on diabetes experts in your area
If you receive a diabetes diagnosis, you may want to ask your doctor the following questions:
If you suspect you may be at risk for diabetes, you may want to ask the following:
November is Diabetes Awareness Month. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) its mission is to raise awareness of this growing disease. Nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes.
To learn more about diabetes:
For a directory of doctors and experts:
Support groups for diabetes:
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