What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes may also be known by a variety of other names, including:
There are two forms of type 1 diabetes:
- idiopathic type 1 - refers to rare forms of the disease with no known cause.
- immune-mediated diabetes - an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system destroys, or attempts to destroy, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
Immune-mediated diabetes is the most common form of type 1 diabetes, and the one generally referred to as type 1 diabetes. The information on this page refers to this form of type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in the US. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children or young adults, but can start at any age.
What Causes Type 1 Diabetes?
The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but it is believed that people inherit a tendency to develop diabetes, and that viruses may be involved.
This auto-immune disease results from the body's failure to produce insulin, the hormone that allows glucose to enter the cells of the body to provide fuel. This is the result of an autoimmune process in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells of the pancreas.
When glucose cannot enter the cells, it builds up in the blood and the body's cells literally starve to death. People with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections and regularly monitor their blood sugar levels.
What are the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes?
The following are the most common symptoms for type 1 diabetes, however, each individual may experience symptoms differently.
Type 1 diabetes often appears suddenly, and signs and symptoms may include:
- high levels of sugar in the blood when tested
- high levels of sugar in the urine when tested
- unusual thirst
- frequent urination
- extreme hunger but loss of weight
- blurred vision
- nausea and vomiting
- extreme weakness and tiredness
- irritability and mood changes
In children, symptoms may be similar to those of having the flu.
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.
What Complications May Be Associated with Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes can cause different problems, but there are three key complications:
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar; sometimes called an insulin reaction) occurs when blood sugar drops too low.
- Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) occurs when blood sugar is too high, and can be a sign that diabetes is not well controlled.
- Ketoacidosis (diabetic coma) is loss of consciousness due to untreated or under-treated diabetes.
Treatment for Type 1 Diabetes:
Specific treatment will be determined by your physician(s) based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference
People with type 1 diabetes must have daily injections of insulin to keep the blood sugar level within normal ranges. Other parts of the treatment protocol may include:
- appropriate foods to manage blood sugar level
- exercise to lower and help the body use blood sugar
- regular blood testing for blood-sugar levels
- regular urine testing for ketone levels
Statistics of type 1 diabetes
- Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5-10 percent of diagnosed cases of diabetes.
- There are an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people with Type 1 diabetes in the US today.
- The risk of developing type 1 diabetes is higher than virtually all other severe chronic diseases of childhood.
- Peak incidence occurs during puberty, around 10 to 12 years of age in girls, and 12 to 14 years of age in boys.
- The symptoms for type 1 diabetes can mimic the flu in children.
- Type 1 diabetes tends to run in families. Brothers and sisters of children with type 1 diabetes have about a 10 percent chance of developing the disease by age 50.
- The identical twin of a person with type 1 diabetes has a 25 to 50 percent chance of developing type 1 diabetes.
Sources: National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders and American Diabetes Association
Learn more about the services offered at the University of Maryland Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology:
For more information or to make an appointment, please call 1-888-567-5468.
This page was last updated: April 26, 2013