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Type 1 diabetes | 2 min. read

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder. In type 1 diabetes the insulin-making cells in the pancreas known as ‘islet’ or ‘beta’ cells are destroyed.

What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

In most cases, type 1 diabetes develops early in life and is often diagnosed during childhood.

Signs of type 1 diabetes include:

  • Excessive urination as your body expels excess glucose
  • Extreme thirst resulting from urination
  • Muscle cramps as fluid loss creates an imbalance in electrolytes in your blood
  • Rapid weight loss as your body uses fat for energy when cells cannot absorb glucose
  • Tiredness and fatigue as energy from glucose cannot reach your body’s cells
  • Thrush/genital itching, yeast infections as glucose in urine provides a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria
  • Blurry vision caused by high glucose levels in the fluid of your eye 
  • Sweet or fruity-smelling breath as acids are released when your body uses non-glucose energy sources

If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms, please seek medical support immediately.

‘Glucose’ and ‘sugar’ mean the same thing - they are used interchangably when talking about diabetes care.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

The disease starts when the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone that helps convert glucose into energy for the body’s cells. As more insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed, the body can no longer control its blood glucose levels and the symptoms of type 1 diabetes begin to appear.

There are certain genetic factors which make some individuals more vulnerable to developing type 1 diabetes. Factors in the environment also contribute and research is ongoing to try to understand these better. Type 1 diabetes starts more frequently in young people and insulin is always needed from diagnosis.

Diagnosing type 1 diabetes

If you show signs of having type 1 diabetes, your doctor may use blood or urine tests to diagnose it. There are several ways this can be done. An initial test can be a simple blood sugar test. If your test results are above normal and you have the common symptoms, you may be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. 

If you do not have the common symptoms but your blood glucose or urine blood glucose level is high, additional blood tests can be taken to measure HbA1C levels. HbA1C is a measure of how well controlled your blood glucose has been over a period of 3 months. It gives a good idea of how high or low, on average, your blood glucose levels have been.

Living with type 1 diabetes

Since type 1 diabetes can develop quickly and without any clear warning signs, getting a diagnosis may come as quite a shock. 

The best thing that you can do is take control of the situation and to learn as much as possible about type 1 diabetes, the treatment options and how it can affect daily life. Talk to your doctor or nurse for more information and advice. There are also many resources available for and by diabetes communities around the world. The more you know, the more prepared you will be to deal with the challenges ahead.

With good management of blood glucose levels and an overall healthy lifestyle, most people with type 1 diabetes can live a long and active life. Hear more about the experiences of someone with type 1 diabetes by clicking on the video below.

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