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Understanding Type 1 Diabetes

Type1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is the less common form of diabetes Mellitus and only accounts for approximately 10% of all cases.  More often, it tends to occur in children and young adults, and is sometimes referred to as Juvenile Diabetes.

Juvenile Diabetes is most often diagnosed around the age of twelve (12) but it can also appear later in life.

Most cases, however, occur before the age of thirty (30) and the onset is usually quite sudden.

Type 1 diabetes is also referred to as insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.  This has to do with the fact that patients with type 1 diabetes require insulin treatment, since their bodies produce little or no insulin.

General Characteristics of Type 1 Diabetes

Juvenile diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disease.  A chronic disease is one that persists over an extended period of time; and an autoimmune disease is one that causes the body's immune system to mistakenly attack a part of the body.

With type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's insulin-producing cells, called beta cells.  These cells are stored within the pancreas.  In the early stages of this disorder there are little to no symptoms.  Up to a certain point the body is able to tolerate the destruction of beta cells and still produce adequate insulin for metabolism.  However, when beta cells are substantially destroyed (80% or more) the pancreases is unable to produce sufficient (or any) insulin.  Only then do the symptoms suddenly begin to manifest.

Without sufficient insulin, the body is unable to properly metabolize glucose.  The glucose in the blood remains useless and the body is unable to convert it to energy.

Since the body is unable to obtain its energy from glucose, it relies on protein and fat for energy.  As the body begins to rapidly breakdown fat, it produces toxic by-products called ketones and fatty acids.  Ketones and fatty acids lower the pH of the blood, which cases a condition known as ketoacidosis.  If left untreated, this condition can lead to coma and eventually death.

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

The symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus are quite similar.  With type 1, however, symptoms tend to occur abruptly whereas with type 2, symptoms occur gradually over a long period of time.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Weight Loss - Caused by rapid breakdown of fat and excessive loss of water via the urine.


  • Frequent urination - Excess glucose in the kidneys causes the kidneys to pull excess water from the blood, which is converted to urine.


  • Increased thirst - As the body loses water, through excessive urine output (polyuria), it tries to replace it.


  • Weakness - Associated with poor metabolism of glucose, fat and protein.


  • Increased hunger - Also associated with poor metabolism.


These are the classic symptoms of type 1 diabetes and tend to occur suddenly.  In the early stage, some patients may experience a period of remission, which results from temporary recovery of cell functions.  Eventually, however, the symptoms return.

In the later stages of Juvenile Diabetes, patients may suffer kidney failure, cardiovascular disease and nerve damage (known as diabetic neuropathy).  Nerve damage can lead to impotence, incontinence and loss of sensation in certain parts of the body.  Consequently patients may be unaware of minor injuries, which can fester and result in gangrene, requiring amputation of toes, feet or legs.

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes?

Genetic factors play a major role in Juvenile Diabetes.  When diabetic genes interact with environmental factors, which can damage beta cells (such as viral infections, including mumps, measles, influenza etc.), this then triggers the onset of the disease.

How is it treated?

The primary treatment involves the administration of insulin.  Since the body is unable to produce insulin, it must be administered by injection.  Hence the reason why type 1 diabetes is sometimes referred to as insulin dependent diabetes mellitus...  Patients must receive daily doses of insulin, which the body can no longer produce.

Effective treatment of type 1 diabetes should include regular exercise, proper diet, regular monitoring of blood sugar levels and regular visits to the doctor.

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