Type 1 Diabetes: Causes and Symptoms

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease - the person's body has destroyed his/her own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
People with Diabetes Type 1 are unable to produce insulin. Most patients with Diabetes Type 1 developed the condition before the age of 40. Approximately 15% of all people with diabetes have Type 1.
Type 1 diabetes is fatal unless the patient regularly takes exogenous insulin. Some patients have had their beta cells replaced through a pancreas transplant and have managed to produce their own insulin again.
Type 1 diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes or childhood diabetes. Although a large number of diabetes Type 1 patients become so during childhood, it can also develop after the age of 18. Developing Type 1 after the age of 40 is extremely rare.
Unlike Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 diabetes is not preventable. The majority of people who develop Type 1 are of normal weight and are otherwise healthy during onset. Exercise and diet cannot reverse Type 1. Quite simply, the person has lost his/her insulin-producing beta cells. Several clinical trials have attempted to find ways of preventing or slowing down the progress of Type 1, but so far with no proven success.
A C-peptide assay is a lab test that can tell whether somebody has Type 1 or Type 2. As external insulin has no C-peptide a lack of it would indicate Type 1. The test is only effective when ALL the endogenous insulin has left the body - this can take several months.

Managing type 1 diabetes through diet

fruit and vegetables
A person with Type one diabetes will have to watch what he/she eats. Foods that are low in fat, salt and have no or very little added sugar are ideal. He/she should consume foods that have complex carbohydrates, rather than fast carbohydrates, as well as fruits and vegetables. A diet that controls the person's blood sugar level as well as his/her blood pressure and cholesterol levels will help achieve the best possible health. Portion size is also important in order to maintain a healthy bodyweight.
Meal planning needs to be consistent so that the food and insulin can work together to control blood glucose levels. According to the Mayo Clinic there is no 'diabetes diet'.
The Clinic says you do not need to restrict yourself to boring bland foods. Rather you should, as mentioned above, consume plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains - foods that are highly nutritious, low in fat, and low in calories. Even sugary foods are acceptable now and again if you include them in your food plan.
If you have Type 1 diabetes you should seek the help of a registered dietitian. A dietitian can help you create a food plan that suits you. Most dietitians agree that you should aim to consume the same quantity of food, with equal portions of carbs, proteins and fats at the same time each day.

Complications of type 1 diabetes - the bad news and the good news

Let's start with the bad news...
  • A person with Type 1 diabetes has a two to four times higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney failure, gum disease and nerve damage, compared to a person who does not have any type of diabetes.
  • A person with Type 1 diabetes is more likely to have poor blood circulation through his/her legs and feet. If left untreated the problem may become such that a foot has to be amputated.
  • A person with Type 1 diabetes will likely go into a coma if untreated.
Now for the good news - treatment is available, it is effective and can help prevent these complications from happening.

How to help prevent complications

  • Keep your blood pressure under 130/85 mm Hg.
  • Keep your cholesterol level below 200 mg.
  • Check your feet every day for signs of infection.
  • Get your eyes checked once a year.
  • Get your dentist to check your teeth and gums twice a year.

Physical activity helps regulate blood sugar levels

lady jogging
Before starting exercise make sure your doctor tells you it is OK. Try to make physical activity part of your daily life. You should try to do at least 30 minutes of exercise or physical activity each day. Physical activity or exercise means aerobic exercise.
If you have not done any exercise for a while, start gently and build up gradually.
Physical activity helps lower your blood sugar. Remember that exercise is good for everybody, not just people with Type 1 diabetes.
The benefits of exercise are enormous for your physical and mental health. You will become stronger, fitter, your sleep will improve as will your skin tone - and after some time you will look great!
Exercise will help your circulation - helping to make sure your lower legs and feet are healthy.
Remember to check your blood sugar level more frequently during your first few weeks of exercise so that you may adapt your meal plans and/or insulin doses accordingly. Remember that a person with Type 1 has to manually adjust his/her insulin doses - the body will not respond automatically.
"Gary Hall won an Olympic gold medal in swimming.
He had Type 1 diabetes."

Possible future cures for type 1 diabetes

Although there is still much research to be done, there are signs that a possible cure for type 1 diabetes may not be too far off.
Much of the research in recent years has been towards the development of an "artifical pancreas." A clinical trial carried out in 2014 compared three ways of delivering insulin to control glucose levels in patients with type 1 diabetes and concluded that two versions of an artificial pancreas can do the job better than conventional pump therapy.
In July 2015, researchers created an implantable artificial pancreas that they say could eliminate the use of insulin injections and pumps for people with type 1 diabetes.
Another area being looked at by scientists is using stem cells in treating and curing type 1 diabetes. Scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia have identified stem cells in the pancreas which can turn into insulin-producing cells. They published their breakthrough in PLoS One (November 9th, 2012).
The authors explain that their finding raises the hope that one day soon patients with diabetes type 1 will be able to produce their own insulin in their own regenerated beta cells in the pancreas. The scientists identified and isolated stem cells from the adult pancreas. They then developed a method for making them become insulin-producing cells that can secrete insulin in response to glucose in the bloodstream.

Video - About Type 1 Diabetes

This video by ClearlyHealth looks takes a close look at type 1 diabetes, its causes, symptoms and diagnosis.
This diabetes information section was written by Christian Nordqvist. It was first published on 15 September 2010 and last updated on 19 May 2015.

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