Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong (chronic) disease in which there are high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Type I Diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. It was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Type I diabetes is usually caused by an auto-immune reaction in which the cells that produce insulin are attacked by the body’s defense system. People who have type 1 diabetes produce very little or no insulin. (Types of Diabetes, 2013) The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. However, in most people, it due to a problem with the body’s immune system.
The immune system is supposed to fight harmful bacteria and viruses, but in those with type 1 diabetes the system mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas. (The Mayo Clinic Staff, 2013) Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas, which lies behind and below the stomach. Once the islet cells have been destroyed the pancreas will produce little or no insulin. The pancreas secretes insulin in the bloodstream and it is circulated throughout the system enabling sugar to enter cells.
The main function of insulin is to lower the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. As the level of sugar drops in the blood, the pancreas slows down the secretion of insulin. Because there is no insulin to let glucose into cells, the sugar builds up in the bloodstream where is can cause life-threatening complications. (The Mayo Clinic Staff, 2013) Glucose is important to the body as it is the main source of energy for the cells that make up muscles and other tissues.
There are two major sources of glucose, food and the liver. The body receives glucose from various foods containing sugar. When sugar is ingested it is absorbed into the bloodstream, where it enters cells with the help of insulin. When you haven’t eaten for a period of time, your insulin levels are low; this is when the liver converts stored glycogen into glucose to keep the glucose level within the body within a normal range. (The Mayo Clinic Staff, 2013) There aren’t many known risk factors for type 1 diabetes.
Some of the known risk factors include: a family history of parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes, Genetics (the presence of certain genes indicates an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes), exposure to certain viruses (Epstein-Barr, mumps, or cytomegalovirus may trigger destruction of islet cells), early drinking of cow’s milk, introduction of cereal to a baby’s diet prior to the age of 3 months, the birth mother who is younger than 25 years of age or if she had preeclampsia during pregnancy, being born with jaundice, and having a respiratory infection just after birth. The Mayo Clinic Staff, 2013) While diabetes is a chronic, lifelong illness, it is controllable. Treatment for type 1 diabetes includes monitoring blood sugar on a regular basis, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight, as well as insulin therapy. Individuals with type 1 diabetes will generally require regular insulin injections for the duration of their lives. (The Mayo Clinic Staff, 2013) There are various types of insulin used to control blood sugar levels.
The three types insulin used for therapy is rapid-acting, intermediate options, and long-acting insulin. Rapid-acting insulin should be taken within 30 minutes of eating a meal as onset of action begins 10-15 minutes after injection and last for approximately 45 minutes. It is meant to be used to help metabolize food when ingested. Long-acting insulin should be taken at the same each day as it works over a 24 hour period with no peak time. The goal is to keep blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible, this will delay and possibly prevent complications.
Daytime blood sugar levels prior to meals should be between 80 and 120. Bedtime blood sugar levels should be between 100 and 140. Keeping blood sugar levels close to normal most of the time can dramatically reduce the risk of complications to other major organs in the body. Uncontrolled blood sugar can cause damage to the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Long-term complications develop gradually over years. The earlier diabetes develops and the less controlled the blood sugar is, the higher the risk for complications.
Type 1 diabetes complications can be life-threatening or even disabling. Heart and blood vessel disease increases the risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and narrowing of the arteries. Excess sugar can injure the walls of tiny blood vessels, with can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tops of the toes/fingers and gradually spreads upward. Uncontrolled blood sugar can cause the loss of all sense of feeling in limbs.
Diabetes can also damage the filtering system of the kidneys. Severe damage can lead to kidney failure which can require dialysis or a kidney transplant. Because diabetes can cause nerve damage it can also affect the blood vessels of the retina which can lead to potential blindness. Diabetes increases the risk of cataracts and glaucoma of the eye. This is just a few of the complications of uncontrolled diabetes. (The Mayo Clinic Staff, 2013) Living with diabetes isn’t easy.
Management of blood sugar requires a lot of time and effort, especially when newly diagnosed. Poorly controlled blood sugar can directly affect emotions and cause behavior changes, such as irritability. Diabetes can also make you feel different from other people. It is important to take with others who have diabetes. Support groups are available both online and in person. This is a good source of information. You can also visit the websites of the American Diabetes Association or the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
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