Diabetes is a life-long disease that has become one of the most common chronic conditions worldwide. According to statistics, there were more than 30 million Americans with this disease in 2015, and the number has been growing ever since.
In fact, every year there are around 1.5 million new cases of type 1 diabetes.
How does it develop? Who’s at risk of developing it? What are the symptoms and possible complications? What are the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes? How to treat it?
There are many questions concerning diabetes, but in this article, we will try to answer as many as we can focusing on type 1 diabetes. We hope our answers will help you understand this life-threatening disease better.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
The pancreas in those with this type of diabetes can’t produce insulin – a hormone crucial for turning sugar into energy needed by the cells in the body.
When there’s no insulin, sugar will accumulate in the blood, reaching dangerous levels. That’s why these people have to take insulin every day for the rest of their lives.
Causes of Type 1 Diabetes
Even though the precise reason is unknown, it usually happens when the immune system begins destroying the pancreatic cells that produce insulin by mistake. But, type 1 diabetes can also occur due to other factors.
Type 1 diabetes could also develop due to the following risk factors:
- Family history;
- Age – it usually develops in children, but it can also occur in adults.
The signs of type 1 diabetes could occur suddenly, and they include:
- Dry mouth;
- Increased thirst;
- Extreme hunger;
- Frequent urination;
- Unintended weight loss;
- Blurred vision;
- Weakness and fatigue;
- Mood changes and irritability;
- Bedwetting in children;
- Fruity breath.
Even though diabetes brings many health complications over the years, you can help prevent them or at least slow them down by maintaining healthy blood glucose levels.
Some of them are disabling, while others are life-threatening. The most common diabetes complications include the following:
Diabetes raises the risk of heart attack, coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), stroke, and high blood pressure (hypertension).
Neuropathy (nerve damage)
Excess blood glucose can damage the walls of capillaries, especially in lower limbs. As a consequence, we may notice burning, numbness, pain, and tingling at the tips of our toes, gradually spreading upward.
That’s why we have to control our blood sugar properly to prevent losing all sense of feeling in our legs, or hands.
Nephropathy (kidney damage)
Poor blood sugar control can damage the kidney’s delicate filtering system. Sometimes it can even lead to irreversible end-stage kidney disease or kidney failure.
Diabetes raises the risk of cataracts, glaucoma, and blindness by damaging the retinal blood vessels.
Poor blood flow or nerve damage in the feet raises the risk of various foot problems. If we don’t treat blisters or cuts, they can progress into severe infections which might end up in leg, foot, or toe amputation.
Type 1 diabetes increases the risk of fungal infections, bacterial infections, dry skin, itching, poor blood flow, and genital yeast infections in women.
Our oral cavity is another part of our body that’s affected by diabetes. Having type 1 diabetes means an increased risk of dry mouth and gum disease.
Pregnant women should keep their blood sugar under control to prevent the risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, and congenital disabilities. However, uncontrolled diabetes could also affect the mother.
She can develop eye problems, diabetic ketoacidosis, preeclampsia, and high blood pressure.
Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes
The difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes is that in type 1, your pancreas produces little or no insulin, unlike in type 2. In type 2 diabetes, our body has sufficient amounts of insulin, but it’s unable to use it well.
Who Is at Risk of Developing Type 1 Diabetes?
Even though type 1 diabetes is mostly diagnosed in children and teenagers under the age of 19, it also occurs in adults. In fact, it can develop at any point in life.
How Is Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosed?
By checking our fasting blood sugar, doing a random blood glucose test, or getting our A1c levels.
Treatment with Insulin
Unlike those with type 2 diabetes who don’t have to take insulin shots, those with type 1 diabetes must take their daily dose of insulin. This will help keep their blood glucose levels in a normal range.
Consult a doctor to determine the right amount of insulin according to your blood glucose tests.
A sudden drop in blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia, is common in those with type 1 diabetes. This may lead to insulin shock which must be addressed properly. Otherwise, it could be life-threatening.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
- Blurry vision;
- Shaking and sweating;
- Poor coordination;
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Loss of consciousness.
That’s why we should always carry some quick-acting carbs with us to bring our blood sugar levels back to normal. In such cases, we can eat some raisins (two tablespoons should be enough), hard candies, or drink a cup of skim milk, or half a cup of non-diet soda or fruit juice.
What If Insulin Doesn’t Work for Us
In such a case, our doctor would probably recommend a pancreatic islet cell transplant. This is the transplantation of pancreatic islets (pancreatic tissues which include the insulin-producing beta-cells) from a donor.
However, the effects might last just a couple of years and cause serious side effects.
Things to Know About Exercise and Type 1 Diabetes
Exercise should be part of every type 1 diabetes treatment, as it helps control blood sugar and prevent diabetes complications.
However, these people should be extra careful when exercising to prevent a sudden drop in their blood glucose levels – hypoglycemia.
That’s why before beginning, they should check their blood glucose levels, adjust their insulin dose, and get a snack.
Researchers are still trying to find a way to prevent type 1 diabetes. They also try to avoid further destruction of beta cells in those who are newly diagnosed with the disease.
Until then, we can’t do anything to prevent type 1 diabetes, but we can prevent health complications linked to this disease by taking insulin as prescribed.