According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system destroys pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin. Without sufficient insulin, glucose levels build up in the blood and become too high, resulting in potentially life-threating symptoms. Read on to learn 10 interesting facts about type 1 diabetes.
1. T1D is less common than other forms of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 diabetes; approximately 5-10% of people living with diabetes have type 1. However, type 1 diabetes is far from a rare disease. According to Beyond Type 1, In the United States alone, 1.6 million Americans live with T1D, and an estimated 64,000 people are diagnosed with the condition each year. In fact, it is estimated that 5 million people will be diagnosed with T1D by 2050.
2. T1D is often diagnosed at a young age
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults, but it can develop at any age. Because type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction, the destruction of beta cells can go on for months or even years before any symptoms appear in the patient. Type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed through a simple blood test, such as an A1C test, which measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months. An A1C level of 6.5% or higher indicates you have diabetes.
3. There are several risk factors for T1D
Although the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, certain genes can make you more susceptible to developing T1D. Studies have shown, for example, that children with a genetic predisposition for and a family history of type 1 diabetes have more than a 1 in 5 risk for developing this autoimmune disease.
However, many people with these genes won’t go on to develop the condition even if they have a genetic predisposition. For that reason, environmental triggers, such as exposure to viruses, are also thought to play a part in the development of type 1 diabetes. Contrary to popular belief, diet and lifestyle habits do not cause type 1 diabetes.
4. Insulin is key to managing diabetes
T1D patients need to take insulin shots, or wear an insulin pump, every day to manage their blood sugar levels and get the energy their body needs. Patients with type 1 diabetes should work with their doctor to determine the most effective type of insulin and dosage that are right for them. Types of insulin range from ultra rapid-acting insulin, to rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, long-acting, and ultra long-acting.
In addition, T1D patients also need to check their blood sugar levels regularly. By keeping their blood sugar levels close to a target determined by their physician, patients can prevent or delay further complications. Blood sugar levels can be monitored through the use of a blood glucose monitor and finger sticks, or a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system.
5. T1D causes a variety of symptoms
Type 1 diabetes symptoms can vary from patient to patient. According to the Mayo Clinic, some signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes include: increased thirst, frequent urination, bed-wetting in children, extreme hunger, unintended weight loss, bacterial and fungal infections of the mouth, gum disease, irritability and mood changes, fatigue and weakness, and blurred vision.
Another common complication of type 1 diabetes is hypoglycemia, otherwise known as low blood sugar. This occurs when the patient has too much insulin, or has waited too long for a meal or snack, or simply hasn’t eaten enough food. It can also be caused by getting extra physical activity.
6. T1D can be disabling
Type 1 diabetes can result in complications affecting various bodily systems. For example, T1D can cause nerve damage, also known as neuropathy. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, burning or pain in one’s extremities. This can also cause gastrointestinal issues, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. In men, erectile dysfunction can be an issue.
Foot damage may also occur, as a result of poor blood flow to or nerve damage in the feet. If not treated, cuts and blisters in the feet can turn into serious infections that may require limb amputation.
T1D may also cause kidney damage, resulting in kidney failure or irreversible end-state kidney disease, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant.
It’s less commonly known that type 1 diabetes can also cause eye damage. The blood vessels of the retina become damaged (called diabetic retinopathy), potentially causing blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of developing other vision conditions, like cataracts and glaucoma.
7. T1D can be life-threatening
Type 1 diabetes can in fact be life-threatening. For instance, T1D can cause cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, chest pain (angina), atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), heart attack, and stroke.
Another life-threatening complication of type 1 diabetes is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a state in which your body cannot use the sugar in its bloodstream to produce energy, so it starts to break down fat as fuel. This causes ketones to be released into the body. If the level of ketones in your body becomes excessively high, this can result in a coma or even death. Some warning signs of DKA include dehydration, extreme thirst, flushed skin, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, shortness of breath, fruity-smelling breath, and disorientation.
8. Lifestyle changes can make a difference
Although type 1 diabetes isn’t caused by poor diet or lifestyle habits, maintaining healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way to improving your overall health and wellbeing. Such habits include stress reduction, getting sufficient sleep, making healthy food choices, being physically active, and controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Maintaining a close working relationship with your medical care team, and regularly attending your appointments, are also important in managing your type 1 diabetes. Your care team may include your primary care physician, endocrinologist, podiatrist (foot doctor), ophthalmologist and optometrist (eye doctors), dentist, pharmacist, registered dietician, and more.
9. Type 1 diabetes can develop during pregnancy
Type 1 diabetes may develop in women who are pregnant, a condition referred to as gestational diabetes. This occurs when blood sugar levels become high during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes affects up to 10% of women who are pregnant in the US each year. While gestational diabetes does go away after giving birth, it can impact your baby’s health, and raises your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
10. There is hope
If you are a type 1 diabetes patient, it’s important to get the support and resources you need to manage daily life with the condition. Here are a few resources that may help:
- Type 1 Diabetes Resources & Support
- Type 1 Diabetes Self-Care Manual
- Diabetes Self-Management Education & Support (DSMES) Toolkit