10 Facts About Type 1 Diabetes

| Health and Wellness

Docteur tenant en main le diabète de type 1

Diabetes is a chronic disease that interferes with the body’s ability to produce insulin (type 1 diabetes) or to use the insulin it makes (type 2 diabetes).

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, and it helps control the level of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being transported into your cells and used for energy. This can cause dangerous health complications.

Nine percent of the Canadian population, or about 3.5 million people, has been diagnosed with diabetes. Five to 10 percent live with type 1 diabetes, and the rest have type 2 diabetes. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at type 1 diabetes. Did you know these 10 things?

  1. Type 1 diabetes was once referred to as “juvenile diabetes” or “insulin-dependent diabetes.” It usually begins in childhood or adolescence, but it can also affect adults. There is no cure.
  2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system attacks the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Normally, the immune system protects us from harmful organisms such as viruses and bacteria. No one knows for sure what causes type 1 diabetes, but it may result from a genetic predisposition and environmental factors. (Researchers do not think weight is a factor, unlike type 2 diabetes.)
  3. Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include a family history of the disease (parent or sibling) and perhaps environmental factors (such as exposure to viruses, but this is unconfirmed). Research has also found that the incidence of type 1 diabetes is higher in countries farther from the equator. Unfortunately, not much else is known about risk factors, and there are no recommendations for prevention of this disease.
  4. The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can develop relatively quickly, over the course of a few weeks. They may include increased or unusual thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, unintended weight gain or loss, fatigue, blurred vision, frequent or recurring infections, slow healing of cuts or bruises, and mood changes (irritability).
  5. Type 1 diabetes is always treated with insulin, which is injected with a pen, syringe or pump. The aim is to keep blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. People with diabetes should work with their physicians to determine how much insulin they need each day and how often it should be injected. This will depend on the individual’s age, lifestyle, meal plan, goals and other factors.
  6. Managing diabetes also involves frequent monitoring of blood glucose levels, careful meal planning to avoid sugar spikes, eating a healthful diet, managing stress and exercising regularly. It is important to people with type 1 diabetes to work together with their health care professionals to manage their condition. To learn more about nutrition and diabetes, it is helpful to consult a registered dietitian.
  7. People who have type 1 diabetes can experience short-term complications if their blood glucose is too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia) compared to their target range. When blood glucose is too low, symptoms may include hunger, shakiness, sweating, dizziness, rapid or irregular heart rate, headaches, fatigue, irritability or blurred vision. If blood glucose isn’t increased (by consuming a fast-acting carbohydrate such as fruit juice or candy), additional symptoms can include lethargy, confusion, coordination problems, behavioural changes or convulsions. If blood glucose is too high, symptoms may include increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, blurred vision, irritability, hunger and difficulty concentrating. The person may require additional insulin to lower their blood glucose.
  8. If type 1 diabetes is uncontrolled or not well managed over the long term, health complications can happen. These may include coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis (narrowing of arteries), heart attack, stroke or high blood pressure. Diabetes can also cause nerve damage – even loss of feeling – usually starting in the fingers and toes and gradually moving higher. Nerve damage can also affect the gastrointestinal system. Diabetes can also cause significant damage to the eyes, kidneys and feet, and it may cause problems with oral health. In pregnant women, type 1 diabetes increases the risk of complications for both the mother and baby. In men, type 1 diabetes can cause erectile dysfunction.
  9. Anxiety and depression are more common among people with diabetes than in the general population. It is important to seek mental health care to address these conditions. Talking to a physician or diabetes educator is a good first step. People can also find emotional support through diabetes support groups in their communities or online.
  10. Living with type 1 diabetes can be challenging and frustrating at times. It’s important to keep in mind that if the condition is well managed, people can live a long, healthy life.

Bayshore HealthCare has expertise in managing diabetes and other health conditions. Learn more.

Additional resources

Diabetes Canada


American Diabetes Association