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Without Treatment, Type 1 Diabetes Can Cause Life-Threatening Complications

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

✍🏻 Isobel Thompson | Medical Biochemistry Student at the University of Leeds

 

What is Type 1 Diabetes? 🏥

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease.

It is a condition where the pancreas produces less insulin than is required to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels.


This happens because the body’s immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.


Without treatment, type 1 diabetes can cause life-threatening complications such as nerve damage, heart disease, kidney damage, eye damage, foot damage, skin conditions, mouth conditions, and/or pregnancy complications.

 

What Is Insulin? ⚡️

Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas.

Insulin regulates blood glucose levels. It allows glucose to enter cells from the bloodstream, where it can be used as a source of energy.


Insulin also helps to maintain the levels of glucose in the body by signalling the liver to store excess glucose as glycogen and inhibiting the liver from producing and releasing excess glucose into the bloodstream.

 

What Is Glucose? 🍬

Glucose is a sugar that serves as the primary energy source for cells.

The 2 major sources of glucose are:

  • Food: When we eat, glucose is absorbed into the blood and then insulin ensures it enters cells.

  • The liver: Glucose is stored here in the form of glycogen and when glucose levels in the body are low, the liver breaks down glycogen into glucose.

 

What Are The Risk Factors For Type 1 Diabetes Development? ⚠️

Family history, genetics, and age, can all play a part in the development of type 1 diabetes.

An individual’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes can be increased by:

  • Family history: For example, if a parent or sibling has type 1 diabetes.

  • Genetics: Certain genes may increase an individual’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

  • Age: Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age but there are peaks at ages 4-7 years and 10-14 years

 

How Is Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosed?🩸

The pathway to diagnosis usually involves a GP appointment followed by blood tests.

At a GP appointment, a healthcare professional will ask the patient questions about their symptoms and family history. If this information causes them to suspect type 1 diabetes (or prediabetes or type 2 diabetes), they will refer the patient for blood tests.


The blood tests carried out may include a:

  • Fasting blood glucose test: Blood glucose levels are checked after an overnight fast.

  • Random blood sugar glucose test: Measures patients current blood glucose levels.

  • Glucose tolerance test: Patient has a sugary drink and blood glucose levels are tested over the course of around 2 hours, showing the body's response to glucose intake.

 

When Is Type 1 Diabetes Typically Diagnosed? 🩺

Type 1 diabetes is more commonly diagnosed during childhood.

Hence, type 1 diabetes is sometimes referred to as ‘juvenile diabetes”.


It is also sometimes called ‘insulin-dependent diabetes’ since the treatment process involves administration of insulin (by injection or insulin pump).


Early diagnosis is important to prevent complications. If you suspect you may have diabetes, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and diagnosis.

 

What Are The Symptoms Of Type 1 Diabetes? 🤕

There is a wide range of type 1 diabetes symptoms, which can develop quickly and vary from person-to-person.

The most common symptoms of type 1 diabetes are known as the 4Ts:

  • Toilet - Frequent urination (polyuria)

  • Thirsty - Excessive thirst (polydipsia)

  • Tired - Fatigue and weakness

  • Thinner - Unexplained weight loss

Other symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes include:

  • Thrush that keeps coming back

  • Increased hunger (polyphagia)

  • Blurred vision

  • Dry mouth and skin

  • Slow healing of wounds

  • Fruity-smelling breath

 

How Is Type 1 Diabetes Treated And Managed? 💉

There is currently no cure for Type 1 diabetes but a combination of treatment and lifestyle modifications can help individuals manage their condition and live a relatively normal life.

Treatment may include:

  • Regular insulin injections or use of an insulin pump to deliver insulin into the body. Dosages depend on factors like blood glucose levels, carbohydrate intake, physical activity, and individual needs.

  • Blood glucose monitoring which involves using a meter to check blood glucose levels throughout the day. Typically testing is required before and after meals, before bed, and during physical activity.

  • Carbohydrate counting which allows individuals to maintain better control over blood glucose levels, by adjusting insulin doses to content of meals.

  • Regular medical check-ups.

Management may include:

  • Developing and sticking to a balanced diet plan

  • Regular physical activity

  • Diabetes education and support

 
Isobel Thompson, Content Writer at Write in the Loop

Written by: Isobel Thompson (Content Writer)


Grace Pountney, Founder and Director at Write in the Loop

Edited by: Grace Pountney (Founder and Director)


 

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