What is Type 1 Diabetes?

By: Dr. Kristine Parker-Curling

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas loses its ability to produce insulin.

When you eat and digest food, you absorb nutrients and sugars and they enter your circulation. It is the job of insulin to get the sugars out of your circulation and into your muscles and tissues where the sugar is used as fuel.

In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system ‘attacks’ the pancreas and causes inflammation and scarring of the pancreas and it eventually loses its ability to produce insulin.

Because of this, blood sugar levels rise and can lead to symptoms including excessive thirst, excessive urination, weight loss, blurred vision and this usually leads to the diagnosis. Patients are generally diagnosed at a young age, even in childhood.

Treatment of type 1 diabetes involves the administration of insulin in a way that mimics what the pancreas would have done.

Generally, insulin is administered via an injection or a continuous infusion just under the skin. Injectable insulin can be supplied in a vial and injected with a syringe, or it can be supplied and injected via a pen device. Insulin pumps administer insulin continuously and avoid the need for multiple daily injections.

During treatment, patients should monitor their blood sugars to make sure that they are meeting their blood sugar goals. Patients can use glucose monitors that monitor glucose from finger sticks or patients can also use continuous glucose monitors that give more detailed information about blood sugar numbers and patterns and this avoids the need to stick your fingers.

When blood sugar levels remain elevated for long periods of time, the blood vessels can become damaged and lead to complications of diabetes such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney damage, and foot problems. Complications of diabetes are completely avoidable in the patient who is well controlled.

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