Diabetes Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease that happens when the pancreas stops making insulin. It usually develops in children and young adults.

Education Topics


What happens when you have type 1 diabetes?

Over time, high blood sugar can lead to serious problems. It can:

  • Harm your eyes, nerves, and kidneys.
  • Damage your blood vessels, leading to heart disease and stroke.
  • Reduce blood flow and cause nerve damage to parts of your body, especially your feet. This can cause slow healing and pain when you walk.

That's why it's important to keep your blood sugar within a target range.

A more sudden problem can happen when the blood sugar level gets so high that a serious chemical imbalance develops in the blood. This condition can be life-threatening and needs quick treatment.

When people hear the word “diabetes,” they often think of problems like these. But daily care and treatment can help prevent or delay these problems. The goal is to keep your blood sugar in a target range. It's the best way to reduce your chance of having more problems from diabetes.


Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease that happens when the pancreas stops making insulin. It usually develops in children and young adults.

Insulin lets sugar (glucose) move from the blood into the body's cells, where it can be used for energy or stored. Without insulin, sugar can't get into the cells, and your blood sugar gets too high. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to problems with your eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys.

Treatment for type 1 diabetes focuses on keeping your blood sugar level in a safe range by eating a balanced diet, taking insulin, and getting regular exercise.


How is type 1 diabetes diagnosed?

If your doctor thinks you might have diabetes, you'll get blood tests to measure how much sugar is in your blood. Your doctor will ask about your past health and do a physical exam. The doctor will use your blood test results and the American Diabetes Association criteria to diagnose diabetes.


Type 1 diabetes: Overview

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease that develops when the pancreas stops making insulin. The body needs insulin to let sugar (glucose) move from the blood into the body’s cells, where it can be used for energy or stored for later use.

Without insulin, the sugar cannot get into the cells to do its work. It stays in the blood instead. This can cause high blood sugar levels. A person has diabetes when the blood sugar is too high. Over time, diabetes can lead to diseases of the heart, blood vessels, nerves, kidneys, and eyes.

To treat type 1 diabetes, you need insulin. You can give yourself insulin through an insulin pump, an insulin pen, or a syringe (needle). Insulin, exercise, and a healthy diet can help prevent or delay problems from diabetes.

With education and support, you will treat diabetes as a part of your life—not your whole life. Seek support when you need it from your family, friends, and your doctor or other diabetes experts.


Can type 1 diabetes be prevented?

Currently there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. But studies are looking into ways to prevent it in those who are most likely to get it. If you have a parent, brother, or sister with type 1 diabetes, and you're willing to take part in a study, talk to your doctor.

Risk Factors

What puts you at risk for type 1 diabetes?

Risk factors are things that increase your chances of getting sick or having a problem. Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include:

Family history.

Having type 1 diabetes in your family increases the chance that you have autoantibodies such as islet cell antibodies. These antibodies attack the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. But a family history of type 1 diabetes doesn't mean that you will definitely have the disease.

Presence of autoantibodies in the blood.

People who have both a family history of type 1 diabetes and two or more autoantibodies in their blood are likely to get type 1 diabetes. If you have family members with type 1 diabetes, you can be tested to see if you have autoantibodies.


White people have a greater risk for type 1 diabetes than Black, Asian, or Hispanic people.

Self-care Treatment Options

How can you care for yourself when you have type 1 diabetes?

  • Take your insulin on time and in the right dose. This helps keep your blood sugar steady. Do not stop or change your insulin without talking to your doctor first.
  • Check and record your blood sugar as often as directed. These records can help your doctor see how you are doing and adjust your treatment if needed. It is important to keep track of any symptoms you have, such as low blood sugar, and any changes in your activities, diet, or insulin use.
  • Carbohydrate—the body’s main source of fuel—affects blood sugar more than any other nutrient. Carbohydrate is in fruits, vegetables, milk, and yogurt. It also is in breads, cereals, vegetables such as potatoes and corn, and sugary foods such as candy and cakes. Follow your meal plan to know how much carbohydrate to eat at each meal and snack.
  • Aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports. Try to do muscle-strengthening exercises at least 2 times a week.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure. Exercise and healthy eating can help with these goals. If you have medicine for cholesterol or high blood pressure, take it as directed. Do not stop or change a medicine without talking to your doctor first.
  • If you have discussed it with your doctor, take a low-dose aspirin every day to help prevent heart attack and stroke. Do not start taking aspirin unless your doctor knows about it.
  • Do not smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Check your feet daily for blisters, cracks, and sores. Have your doctor look at your feet whenever you have a checkup.
  • Get a checkup every 3 to 6 months. Your doctor will tell you how often to come in. You will need regular tests such as:
    • A hemoglobin A1c test. You may need this test more often than once a year. It is a good measure of how well your treatment is working.
    • A cholesterol test.
    • A urine test for protein. This checks for kidney problems.
    • A complete foot exam.
    • An eye exam, even if you do not think your vision has changed.

Signs and Symptoms

What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include urinating often, being very thirsty, losing weight without trying, being hungrier than usual, and having blurry vision. Symptoms are caused by high blood sugar. They usually develop quickly, over a few days to weeks. At first, symptoms may be overlooked or mistaken for another illness, like the flu.

What are the symptoms of high and low blood sugar in type 1 diabetes?

You have most symptoms of type 1 diabetes when your blood sugar is either too high or too low.

Common symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • Thirst.
  • Needing to urinate often.
  • Weight loss.
  • Blurry vision.

Common symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Sweating.
  • Shakiness.
  • Weakness.
  • Hunger.
  • Confusion.

If you wait too long to get medical care when your blood sugar goes too high, you may develop diabetic ketoacidosis. Symptoms include:

  • Flushed, hot, dry skin.
  • A strong, fruity breath odor.
  • Feeling restless or drowsy, or having trouble waking up.
  • Lack of interest in normal activities.
  • Rapid, deep breathing.
  • Loss of appetite, belly pain, and vomiting.
  • Confusion.

Surgical Treatment

How is surgery used to treat type 1 diabetes?

Surgery may be an option for certain people who have type 1 diabetes. Choices may include:

Pancreas transplant.

When insulin isn't enough to keep blood sugar in your target range, a pancreas transplant might be an option. If it's successful, you may no longer have symptoms or need to treat diabetes. But you may still get complications from diabetes. And you must take medicine to keep your body from rejecting the new organ.

Pancreatic islet cell surgery.

This involves inserting a small group of donated pancreas cells (islet cells) through a vein in your liver. After surgery, these cells start to make insulin. If they can make enough, you may no longer need insulin injections. But you must take medicine to prevent rejection.

Treatment Options

How is type 1 diabetes treated?

Treatment for type 1 diabetes focuses on keeping blood sugar levels within a target range and doing things to reduce complications. To control your blood sugar, you'll take insulin, make healthy food choices, check blood sugar levels several times a day, and get regular exercise.

What Causes It

What causes type 1 diabetes?

The body makes insulin in beta cells, which are in a part of the pancreas called the islet (say "EYE-let") tissue. Type 1 diabetes starts because the body's immune system destroys those beta cells. So people who have type 1 diabetes can't make their own insulin.

What It Is

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a disease that starts when the pancreas stops making enough insulin. Insulin helps your body use sugar for energy or store it for later use. If you don't have insulin, too much sugar stays in your blood. Over time, high blood sugar can damage many parts of the body.

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