Type 1 Diabetes: Definition, Causes, Treatment, Facts, Diagnosis
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic, incurable condition in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin. Insulin is a peptide hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins by allowing glucose from the blood to absorb into the liver, fat, and skeletal muscle. Without insulin, people with type 1 diabetes experience problems and symptoms related to high blood sugar.
Type 1 diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. Both terms for the condition describe the main characteristics. Most people who have type 1 diabetes are diagnosed as children or young adults, though it can be diagnosed in adults as well. Type 1 diabetes is typically developed because of an abnormality in a person’s immune system that causes it to destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It can also be caused by genetics or exposure to certain environmental factors and viruses. Studies have found that identical twins do not always both have type 1 diabetes, proving that certain environmental factors put people at risk (though those factors are yet to be confirmed).
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include increased thirst, hunger, frequent urination, bedwetting (particularly in children who do not have a history of wetting the bed), unexplained and unplanned weight loss, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, weakness, blurred vision, and diabetic ketoacidosis, which causes dry mouth, dry skin, fatigue, increased thirst, rapid breathing, abdominal pain, frequent urination, and vomiting.
Type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed through a variety of medical tests. First of all, the disease is characterized by persistent hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar. People who think they might have type 1 diabetes can get a fasting plasma test, oral glucose tolerance test, or hemoglobin A1C (glycated hemoglobin test).
More symptoms can develop overtime in people with type 1 diabetes. Diabetes can increase a person’s likelihood of developing heart and blood vessel diseases and cardiovascular problems such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), and high blood pressure. People with type 1 diabetes may also develop nephropathy (kidney damage), neuropathy (nerve damage), eye damage, foot damage, skin and mouth illnesses, and pregnancy complications. Nerve damage occurs because excess sugar in the bloodstream can damage blood vessels (capillaries), causing tingling, numbness, burning, or pain that can begin at the tip of the toes or fingers and spread up the limbs. In severe cases, people with type 1 diabetes may lose all sensation in the affected limbs.
There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, so more treatment is focused on managing a patient’s blood sugar levels with insulin, nutrition, and awareness of different lifestyle factors that are risky or beneficial. Treatments aim to maintain a person’s blood sugar at normal levels even if insulin therapy and medication is required for the person’s entire lifetime. There is also no way to necessarily prevent type 1 diabetes, though researchers are continuously searching for ways to prevent the disease.