TYPE 1 DIABETES

Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. The far more common type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t make enough insulin.

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. In most people with type 1 diabetes, the body’s own immune system — which normally fights harmful bacteria and viruses — mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing (islet) cells in the pancreas. Genetics may play a role in this process, and exposure to certain environmental factors, such as viruses, may trigger the disease. Although type 1 diabetes usually appears during childhood or adolescence, it also can develop in adults.

Despite active research, type 1 diabetes has no cure. But it can be managed. With proper treatment, people with type 1 diabetes can expect to live longer, healthier lives than did people with type 1 diabetes in the past.

Complications

Type 1 diabetes can affect major organs in your body, including heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Keeping your blood sugar level close to normal most of the time can dramatically reduce the risk of many complications.

Long-term complications of type 1 diabetes develop gradually, over decades. Good blood sugar management can help lower the risk of complications. Eventually, diabetes complications may be disabling or even life-threatening.

  • Heart and blood vessel disease. Diabetes dramatically increases your risk of various cardiovascular problems, including coronary artery disease with chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke, narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and high blood pressure.
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy). Excess sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish your nerves, especially in the legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward. Poorly controlled blood sugar could cause you to eventually lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs. Damage to the nerves that affect the gastrointestinal tract can cause problems with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. For men, erectile dysfunction may be an issue.
  • Kidney damage (nephropathy). The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters that filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can damage this delicate filtering system. Severe damage can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant.
  • Eye damage. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina (diabetic retinopathy), potentially leading to blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of other serious vision conditions, such as cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Foot damage. Nerve damage in the feet or poor blood flow to the feet increases the risk of various foot complications. Left untreated, cuts and blisters can become serious infections, which often heal poorly and may ultimately require toe, foot or leg amputation.
  • Skin and mouth conditions. Diabetes may leave you more susceptible to skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Pregnancy complications. High blood sugar levels can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby. The risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects are increased when diabetes isn’t well-controlled. For the mother, diabetes increases the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, diabetic eye problems (retinopathy), pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and preeclampsia.

Symptoms:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Bedwetting in children who previously didn’t wet the bed during the night
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Irritability and other mood changes
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • In females, a vaginal yeast infection

DIAGNOSIS

To diagnose type 1 diabetes, your doctor will ask for a:

  • Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This blood test indicates your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. It works by measuring the percentage of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. The higher your blood sugar levels, the more hemoglobin you’ll have with sugar attached. An A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher on two separate tests indicates you have diabetes.

If the A1C test isn’t available, or if you have certain conditions that can make the A1C test inaccurate — such as if you’re pregnant or have an uncommon form of hemoglobin (known as a hemoglobin variant) — your doctor may use the following tests to diagnose diabetes:

  • Random blood sugar (RBS) test. A blood sample will be taken at a random time. Blood sugar values are expressed in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Regardless of when you last ate, a random blood sugar level of 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) or higher suggests diabetes, especially when coupled with any of the signs and symptoms of diabetes, such as frequent urination and extreme thirst.
  • Fasting blood sugar (FBS) test. A blood sample will be taken after an overnight fast. A fasting blood sugar level less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) is normal. A fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) is considered prediabetes. If it’s 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) or higher on two separate tests, you have diabetes.

If you are diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor will also run blood tests to check for autoantibodies that are common in type 1 diabetes. These tests help your doctor distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The presence of ketones — byproducts from the breakdown of fat — in your urine also suggests type 1 diabetes, rather than type 2.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you’ll regularly visit your doctor to help you with your diabetes management. During these visits, the doctor will check your A1C levels. Your target A1C goal may vary depending on your age and various other factors, but the American Diabetes Association generally recommends that A1C levels be below 7 percent, which translates to an estimated average glucose of 154 mg/dL (8.5 mmol/L).

Compared with repeated daily blood sugar tests, A1C testing better indicates how well your diabetes treatment plan is working. An elevated A1C level may signal the need for a change in your insulin regimen, meal plan or both.

People who are meeting their A1C goals and who are confident in their diabetes management are generally seen twice a year by their endocrinologists. People who are having trouble reaching their A1C goals are usually seen every three months.

In addition to the A1C test, the doctor will also take blood and urine samples periodically to check your cholesterol levels, thyroid function, liver function and kidney function. The doctor will also examine you to assess your blood pressure, and he or she will check the sites where you test your blood sugar and deliver insulin.

 

TREATMENT

Treatment for type 1 diabetes includes:

  • Taking insulin
  • Carbohydrate counting
  • Frequent blood sugar monitoring
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight

The goal is to keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible to delay or prevent complications. Although there are exceptions, generally, the goal is to keep your daytime blood sugar levels before meals between 70 and 130 mg/dL (3.9 to 7.2 mmol/L) and your after meal numbers no higher than 180 mg/dL (10 mmol/L) two hours after eating.

Good diabetes management can be overwhelming, especially when you’re first diagnosed. Take it one day at a time. And remember that you’re not alone. You’ll work closely with your diabetes treatment team to keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible.

 

RECOMMENDED MEDICATIONS

Anyone who has type 1 diabetes needs lifelong insulin therapy. After the diagnosis, there may be a “honeymoon” period, during which blood sugar is controlled with little or no insulin. However, this phase doesn’t last.

Types of insulin are many and include:

  • Rapid-acting insulin
  • Long-acting insulin
  • Intermediate options

Examples are regular insulin (Humulin 70/30, Novolin 70/30, others), insulin isophane (Humulin N, Novolin N), insulin glulisine (Apidra), insulin lispro (Humalog) and insulin aspart (Novolog). Long-acting insulins include glargine (Lantus) and detemir (Levemir).

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