Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes is also characterized by the presence of certain autoantibodies against insulin or other components of the insulin-producing system such as glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), tyrosine phosphatase, and/or islet cells.
Type 1 diabetes is also called insulin-dependent diabetes. It used to be called juvenile-onset diabetes, because it often begins in childhood. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. It’s caused by the body attacking its own pancreas with antibodies. In people with type 1 diabetes, the damaged pancreas doesn’t make insulin.
This type of diabetes may be caused by a genetic predisposition. It could also be the result of faulty beta cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin.
A number of medical risks are associated with type 1 diabetes. Many of them stem from damage to the tiny blood vessels in your eyes (called diabetic retinopathy), nerves (diabetic neuropathy), and kidneys (diabetic nephropathy). Even more serious is the increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Treatment for type 1 diabetes involves taking insulin, which needs to be injected through the skin into the fatty tissue below. The methods of injecting insulin include:
- Insulin pens that use pre-filled cartridges and a fine needle
- Jet injectors that use high pressure air to send a spray of insulin through the skin
- Insulin pumps that dispense insulin through flexible tubing to a catheter under the skin of the abdomen
A periodic test called the A1C blood test estimates glucose levels in your blood over the previous three months. It’s used to help identify overall glucose level control and the risk of complications from diabetes, including organ damage.
Having type 1 diabetes does require significant lifestyle changes that include:
- Frequent testing of your blood sugar levels
- Careful meal planning
- Daily exercise
- Taking insulin and other medications as needed
People with type 1 diabetes can lead long, active lives if they carefully monitor their glucose, make the needed lifestyle changes, and adhere to the treatment plan.