Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition that can appear at any point in life, although it usually shows up during childhood or adolescence. It is rare; only five percent of people with diabetes have this type.

With type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin producing cells (called islets) in the pancreas, causing permanent damage. Islets cells sense glucose in the blood and, in response, produce the necessary amount of insulin to normalize blood sugars.

Insulin is like a key that open your cells, allowing sugar from the food you eat inside. Without insulin, sugars build up in the blood. If left untreated, a high level of blood sugar can damage your eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. In most people with type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system, which normally fights bacteria and viruses, mistakenly attacks the pancreas. Genetics, exposure to certain viruses, geography and age are some of the known risk factors.


Type 1 diabetes symptoms can come on quickly and may include:

  • Increased thirst or dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Irritability and other mood changes
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Heavy, labored breathing
  • Frequent infections of the skin, urinary tract or vagina


Diagnosis of diabetes typically requires one or more of the following blood tests:

  • A fasting blood glucose test measures your blood glucose after eight hours of fasting (no food or drink other than water).
  • If your fasting blood glucose test results are normal, but you have some symptoms or risk factors for diabetes, your doctor may order an oral glucose tolerance test where you will drink a special glucose solution and test again after two hours.
  • An A1c test provides an overview of your blood glucose levels for the past few months rather than the snapshot the fasting blood glucose test measures.
  • An autoantibody test can detect the antibodies that attack pancreatic beta cells.


People with type 1 diabetes require lifelong insulin therapy. Insulin cannot be taken orally because the stomach’s digestive juices will destroy the hormone. It must be injected through a pen, syringe or insulin pump.

Type 1 diabetes patients must also frequently monitor their blood sugar. The goal is to keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible to delay or prevent complications. Carbohydrate counting, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are also important components of successful diabetes treatment.

Good diabetes management can be overwhelming, especially when you're first diagnosed. So take it one day at a time, and remember that you're not alone. The diabetes specialists at Mercy will work closely with you to manage your blood sugar, keep you healthy and living life to the fullest.

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