Overview of type 1 diabetes

Firstly let me explain what is diabetes, before we get into type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes Summary

The term diabetes usually refers to diabetes mellitus. There are many other types of diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus is a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism. Where the body is unable to utilize insulin correctly or fail to produce insulin in enough quantities, resulting in high blood glucose levels.
The only way to expel this extra sugar is via the kidneys.
Mellitus from Latin meaning "sweet urine".

Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is when the body does not produce insulin and is dependent on an external supply of insulin.
type 1 Diabetes is not exclusively a childhood problem anymore, more and more adults are now also diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes. Many adults are misdiagnosed as type 2 diabetes, due the confusion of this classification.

It is an autoimmune disease, where the body's own immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Destroyed cells will not produce the hormone insulin again.

The reason why this happens is still unclear. The current thinking is that it is gene related. Although having the right gene is not the only contributing factor. Exposure to a virus seems to be the trigger that brings on the destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas.

What is all this about insulin and glucose?

Glucose is the major energy source for the body. Food is broken down into glucose and other nutrients in the dietary tract, where the glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream.

In order for the glucose (main type of sugar) to be utilized by the body for energy, it needs to gain access to the individual cells, where it is converted to energy for the cell to function.

Insulin encapsulates the glucose and enters the cells. Insulin can be compared to a key that opens the door of the cell so that the glucose can enter. Glucose by itself is denied access to the cells, it needs the insulin for the cells to be receptive to it.

When the glucose is not used by the cells it stays in the bloodstream, resulting in higher than normal blood-sugar levels. High blood sugar levels can cause a number of health problems.

Parents take note of these Signs and Symptoms

Since type 1 diabetes is found mostly in children, it is up to the parents to keep an eye open for the symptoms that indicate that your child could be diabetic.

The symptoms are not always obvious and they can sometimes develop over a long time. Generally people who think that the type 1 diabetes appeared suddenly only became aware of it at the later stages.
It can however, come on suddenly but mostly it is gradually.

The sooner the symptoms are identified and the appropriate tests done, the less the effects of the disease will be. (eventual complications and concentrated-sugar damage)
By far most of the fatalities of type 1 diabetes happens before diagnosis.

Diabetes can cause long-term complications, including heart disease, stroke, vision impairment, and kidney damage. Other possible problems could be caused by high sugar levels throughout the body, in the blood vessels, gums and nerves.

These problems don't usually show up in kids or teens with type 1 diabetes. However, these health problems can occur in adulthood, particularly if the disease have not been managed or controlled properly and/or delayed diagnosis.(Damage done before treatment is started)

Proper treatment can stop (or at least control) the risk of these long-term complications.

Testing for diabetes is relatively simple. If you suspect that your child is showing any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor.

Signs of an advanced stage of untreated diabetes.

  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)
  • If the early symptoms of diabetes are missed, chemicals called ketones can build up in the blood and cause:
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fruity-smelling breath
  • Breathing problems
  • Loss of consciousness
  • DKA is fatal if left untreated.
  • Sometimes these symptoms are mistaken for the flu or appendicitis.
  • Be aware of the possibility of ketones and ask for diabetes testing if any or combination of the above occurs.
  • Though the above events might not necessarily point to diabetes, the testing is still needed, just to be sure.

Possible early signals that something is wrong.

  • Bed-wetting in a child that has been dry at night.
  • Candida infection (a vaginal yeast infection) in pre-puberty girls.

Urinates frequently.

  • High blood sugar levels creates the need to urinate more frequently and in larger volumes than normal.
  • In answer to the high levels of glucose in the blood, the kidneys flushing out the extra glucose in urine, drawing extra water from the body to dilute the glucose.

Abnormal thirst.

  • Because the kidney uses so much fluid to dilute the glucose and due to frequent urination, the body tends towards dehydration.
  • Thirst is a way of the body telling us that dehydration is immanent.
  • If the kidneys do not dilute the glucose, then it will come out a syrup.
  • Drinking a lot is an attempt to keep the water levels in the body normal.

Losing weight or failure to gain weight when growing.

  • Type 1 diabetics often have a good appetite, but still lose weight.
  • The body breaks down muscle and stored fat in an attempt to provide for the hungry cells.
  • The kidneys can also cause the breakdown of muscle and fat to obtain enough water to dilute the glucose.

Often tired.

  • The body is unable to use glucose for energy properly.

Living with Type 1 Diabetes

Before insulin was discovered in 1920, Type 1 diabetes was fatal. Insulin has helped to improve the mortality rate tremendously.
Today with all the advances of medicine that are available, a type 1 diabetic can live a normal, long life.

Granted, there are skills to be mastered and adjustments to be made, but it is like that with everything in life.
For example, social skills are also learned, adjustments have to be made, yet no-one sees it as a burden. The same can be said about personal hygiene and many other things needed to survive in today's world.

So, the managing of your diabetes is just one more item to be added to your survival skill set.

When the newly acquired skills and adjustments for diabetes are part of the daily routine, then it can become just as automatic as brushing teeth.

Young children may not understand why the injections are necessary, they may even be scared and uncooperative.
Teenagers may feel different from their friends, the natural adolescent body changes may affect the control of the diabetes.

This can be overwhelming, that is where the diabetes care team come in. They are there not only to assist with medical and diabetes control issues, but also for supporting parents and child in coping with the disease.

It is necessary for diabetics to come to terms with the disease and to accept responsibility for their own lives.
Your body is the only one you have - For the rest of your life!

You have been given this extra burden called diabetes. It does not do anything if you rebel against it or go into depression about it.
It is up to you and you alone to make the decision to take control and enjoy the best your body has to offer, even if it is different than those around you.

Yes, your body is your responsibility, the health care team, your parents and anybody else cannot do it for you, only assist you in the best way that they can.

Make the management of your diabetes part of your daily life and it will not be a burden. Here are some of the basics you need to do.

Monitor blood sugar levels.

  • Test a small blood sample a few times a day.

Getting the insulin.

  • Inject yourself with insulin.
  • Have an adult do it if still too young or still learning.
  • Use an insulin pump.

Healthy eating.

  • Eat a balanced healthy diet.
  • Pay close attention to the amount of starches and sugars in each meal.
  • Try and have the meals at the same time each day.


  • Regular exercise help to control blood sugar levels
  • Exercise also help to avoid some of the long-term health problems, like heart disease. Especially since you are more vulnerable to it, because of your diabetes.

Regular visits to the health care team.

  • Your doctor and the rest of your diabetes health care team can assist you in achieving the best possible control of your diabetes.
  • Be monitored for signs of complications from your diabetes and other health issues that affect type 1 diabetics.

A Parting thought

Though type 1 diabetes can be fatal, fatalities usually occur prior to diagnosis. The disease can be controlled with correct treatment.
So, if you only suspect someone showing signs of the symptoms, have them tested. You could be instrumental in saving a life.

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