Diabetes (or diabetes mellitus) has two main types: Type 1 and Type 2. In this section we will be talking about Type 1. For more information on Type 2 diabetes, please click here.
Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin dependent diabetes, develops when the insulin producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed and the body stops producing its own insulin. The body needs insulin to turn food into energy so, without it, blood sugar levels rise resulting in too much sugar in the blood.
Type 1 diabetes generally affects children and young adults of both sexes and will usually become apparent before the age of 40.
The exact cause of diabetes is unknown but it is thought to be a problem with the immune system, known as an autoimmune disease. This is where the body believes healthy cells are foreign invaders so attacks and damages them instead of fighting to protect them.
In type 1 diabetes the body attacks the insulin-producing cells. The following risk factors may also play a role:
There are a few myths associated with diabetes. It isn’t true that eating too many sweets causes diabetes. Diabetes is also not contagious; you cannot catch diabetes from somebody with the condition.
Symptoms are similar for both types of diabetes. However, Type 1 diabetes may develop quickly in a matter of days or weeks, whereas type 2 diabetes can develop gradually. Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include:
The onset of diabetes can be rapid or very gradual. If undiscovered, patients can develop serious complications such as blindness, kidney disease, impotence and nerve damage that could lead to amputation.
Studies show that people with undiagnosed diabetes also have a higher risk of coronary heart disease and strokes. Therefore early diagnosis is important and beneficial.
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above or suspect you might have diabetes you must visit your doctor.
Diabetes is often diagnosed by a doctor during routine urine or blood tests when the test shows the presence of glucose. If you suspect you have diabetes your doctor may give you a simple dip urine test to look for the presence of glucose in your urine.
Normally, there should be no sugar in urine but when the levels of glucose in the blood rise above normal, glucose is spilled into the urine by the kidneys. This is why diabetes symptoms, such as excessive urination and genital itching, occur. If sugar is present in urine, it is a good indicator of diabetes.
If an initial screening test shows glucose in urine you’ll need a further blood test, which measures the actual amount of glucose in the blood. We have a blood glucose monitoring system available on this website which gives an accurate picture of your blood glucose level at the time of the test. More information: Blood Glucose Test
If the level of glucose present is borderline, your doctor may want you to undergo another blood test which is carried out after fasting overnight. Alternatively, your doctor may recommend a HbA1c test, which looks at long-term sugar levels.
The primary aim of treatment is to keep blood glucose levels stable; the quicker levels are brought under control the better long-term health prospects.
Type 1 diabetes requires insulin injections for the rest of your life. Insulin can only be given by injection because if it was given by tablet your stomach juices would destroy the insulin.
It is important that insulin levels are managed and blood sugar is monitored regularly. If you take too much insulin it can make blood sugar levels drop, which can result in hypoglycaemia. If blood sugar levels become too high a condition called hyperglycaemia can develop.
You will also have to stick to a healthy diet and limit your consumption of sweet sugary foods. This will involve carbohydrate, fat and protein counting.
Read more about treatment for Type 1 diabetes
You will need to monitor your blood glucose levels regularly and you should aim to keep the levels between 4 and 7 mmol/L before meals, and less than 9mmol/L after a meal.
The HbA1c test that measures glucose levels will also be carried out regularly by your GP to check what your glucose levels have been like over the previous months.
Diabetes affects people differently. Some people may not develop any complications whereas others can really suffer. Either way, it’s important to know what complications can occur so you know what to look out for:
For more detailed information on the various complications, please click here.
To avoid complications, it’s essential you take control over your glucose levels, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking, limit alcohol intake and take regular exercise.
There is currently no cure for diabetes. However, the good news is that it can be controlled and managed with treatment and self-care. Once you get used to the routine of testing your glucose levels and taking medication, it will become part of your everyday life, like brushing your teeth.
It doesn’t need to stop you enjoying life. It is predicted that 5 million people in the UK will be living with diabetes by 2025 – you are not alone and there is a great deal of help available.
Learn more about diabetes: