The Truth About Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetes doesn’t just affect adults. Young people can suffer from it too.

Many people have the mistaken notion that diabetes is a condition that is linked only to the amount of sugar or glucose in a person’s diet. The truth is, diabetes is also related to the amount of insulin in the body.

Insulin is a hormone in your body which is released by the pancreas. The role of insulin is to allow the cells in your body to feed on sugar and glucose, which will then be turned into energy. Insulin also helps to control your blood sugar level, ensuring that it doesn’t rise too high (hyperglycaemia) or drop too low (hypoglycaemia). However, for some people, the pancreas naturally produces a small amount of insulin or stops producing them entirely and this affects their blood sugar level. This is what leads to juvenile diabetes or Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (T1DM).

The truth about Type 1

T1DM occurs when your pancreas does not produce enough insulin to regulate the amount of glucose in your blood. This is why, this condition is also known as insulin dependent diabetes. T1DM can occur at any age but it usually happens to those aged 40 and below.

There are various reasons behind T1DM. According to the Mayo Clinic, these reasons include genetics, age and possibly certain types of viruses (possibly mumps and Coxsackie virus).

The reason why your pancreas produces a minimal amount of insulin is believed to be linked with autoimmune disease. What happens is that your body’s immune system, which is made up of antibodies, attacks the cells in your pancreas, destroying the cells that generate insulin. These cells are known as beta cells. However, researchers have yet to conclude the what precisely triggers this reaction.

Am I Type 1?

Generally, T1DM can happen to anyone and it can happen at any time. The symptoms of T1DM includes:

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Constantly feeling thirsty
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Aside from the above, you should also be aware of the following key symptoms that require immediate medical attention:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Shaking and confusion
  • Pain in your belly
  • Fruity smell to your breath

Be in control

If you have the symptoms above, seeking medical attention should be your next step. In most cases, your doctor will conduct a blood test to check your blood sugar levels. He or she may also suggest a urine test to further investigate your medical issue and confirm the diagnosis. At the moment, there are no preventative measures to avoid T1DM nor is there a cure to this condition. However, there are effective steps which you can take to manage the condition.

The good news is being diagnosed with T1DM will not stop you from enjoying life. All you need to do is to adhere to the treatment plan as recommended by your doctor and to ensure that your blood sugar level remains as close as possible to the normal range(between 3.9 to 7.2 mmol/dL before meals and no higher than 10 mmol/dL two hours after a meal).

Some of the treatment options for T1DM include insulin treatment which is commonly administered with a syringe. According to WebMD, there are new insulin treatment options available. For instance, you can now use a prefilled pen which will be administered via injection or an inhaler which allows you to inhale fine insulin powder. Your doctor will recommend the best method of treatment, depending on your lifestyle and current medical condition.

Knowledge is power

Aside from medication, you will also need to make some lifestyle adjustments to ensure that your blood sugar level is under control. First, it is important to understand how to maintain a balance when it comes to your insulin levels. As your body produces low amounts of insulin or none, you should be vigilant as to how your body uses your ‘insulin dose’. The American Diabetes Association recommends a patient with T1DM to test his or her blood sugar levels before any meal, snack or activity such as before working out or driving. This to ensure that you have a healthy blood sugar level before you head for the buffet line or take the car out for a drive.

Having a blood glucose test kit at home and a book to record the readings helps you monitor your readings. If you’re tech savvy, go ahead and install applications such as Glucose Buddy and Diabetes Log which are available for free, in both Google Play and Apple iTunes store.

Having a record of your daily readings makes things easier when you visit your doctor. This way, your doctor will be able to see the exact pattern of your blood glucose levels and advise you on the steps you can take to improve your readings. Aside from monitoring and understanding your blood sugar levels, following a balanced diet and and opting for an active lifestyle can help as well.

If it gets out of hand

Just like any medical condition, complications can occur if the disease is not under control. This can lead to serious and life-threatening medical conditions. Here are some of the possible complications which can occur:

  • Kidney damage – According to WebMD, nephropathy (a type of kidney disease) can occur in about 20 to 30 percent of patients with T1DM. Nephropathy may not arise in the early stages of T1DM but the risk increases as the years go by; especially if T1DM is not managed well. Nephropathy can also lead to kidney failure and heart diseases.
  • Eye sight – Diabetes can affect the blood vessels in your eyes. If your blood vessels are damaged due to uncontrolled blood sugar levels, it can lead to blindness. Your risk for eye conditions such as glaucoma and cataract also increases with diabetes.
  • Nerve damage – Just like the blood vessels in your eyes, your capillaries (tiny blood vessels in your body) can also be affected. This can cause a tingling or numb sensation in any part of your body but is most prevalent in your legs. Nerve damage can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation.

T1DM can affect anyone but is most prevalent among the younger age group such as teenagers and young adults. Good management of this condition will help you to maintain a good quality of life and reduces your risks of T1DM related complications.


Did you know?

According to the Mayo Clinic, your risk of T1DM increases if you travel or live further from the equator. Finland and Sardinia are home to the highest numbers of people living with T1DM. It is believed that that these two countries have twice or three times as many T1DM patients as the United States and 400 times as many as Venezuela.

T1DM vs T2DM

T1DM is different from Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM). T2DM is more common and affected 15.2 percent of Malaysian adults, according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2011. T2DM occurs when your pancreas does not produce enough insulin or your body’s cells do not react correctly to insulin. This condition is also known as insulin resistance. Unlike T1DM, T2DM is mainly caused by lifestyle factors such as an unhealthy diet, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

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