Living with Diabetes

What are Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms


It is important to know about type 1 diabetes symptoms because the onset of the disease can happen very quickly. Diabetes is a term that describes a family of metabolic disorders affecting your body’s ability to absorb sugar out of your blood and convert it into energy. In a healthy person, this process is controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. When someone has diabetes, the body stops producing insulin, or loses the ability to use it. This causes sugar to accumulate in the blood, leading to a number of common symptoms. Over time if you do not manage your diabetes, it can cause serious or even life-threatening complications. 

 

What is Type 1 Diabetes

There are several types of diabetes. With type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system malfunctions and starts attacking healthy cells in the pancreas. This eventually causes the pancreas to make less insulin, or stop making it altogether. When this happens, the person’s blood sugar levels will go up, and they will start experiencing symptoms.

Diabetes Type 1 Symptoms

Type 1 diabetes used to be known as “juvenile diabetes” because it often develops in childhood. While it’s still most commonly diagnosed early in life, we now know that type 1 diabetes can come on at any age. While both adults and children usually experience the same classic symptoms of type 1 diabetes, there are also some differences. 

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes in Adults

Some common symptoms of type 1 diabetes in adults include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme Thirst
  • Extreme Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vision changes

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes in Children

  • Unusual bedwetting or “accidents” for children who are toilet trained
  • Frequent diaper changes in babies
  • Increased thirst or dehydration
  • Increased hunger in some children, loss of appetite in others
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Unusual fatigue or sudden weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diaper rash that won't go away
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Complaining about blurriness or vision problems
  • Breath that has a fruity smell
  • Yeast infections in girls

How Fast do Symptoms Appear?

Unlike type 2 diabetes, which can develop slowly over many years, symptoms of type 1 diabetes tend to be dramatic and come on suddenly. Sometimes a person can go from being very healthy to having many symptoms in a matter of months or even weeks. Symptoms can be severe from the early stages and can become life threatening if they are not treated.

When To See a Doctor

If you or your child are having symptoms of type 1 diabetes, you should contact your doctor right away. Because type 1 diabetes can progress quickly, it’s important to get it diagnosed as soon as possible so that you can begin treatment. The good news is type 1 diabetes can be managed with treatment, keeping your blood sugar levels under control and preventing serious complications.

Causes and Risk Factors

Scientists don’t know what causes some people’s immune systems to turn on the pancreas and start attacking immune-producing cells. They do know that, unlike some other types of diabetes, type 1 diabetes is not caused by the person’s lifestyle choices or weight. Genetics may play a role. It’s also possible that being exposed to certain viruses or environmental factors could help trigger the condition. 

 

If you have close family members with type 1 diabetes, you may be at higher risk. Age is also a risk factor: even though type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age, it’s most common in children and young adults.

Type 1 Complications

Left unmanaged, type 1 diabetes can lead to serious complications. This is because, over time, high levels of glucose can damage your blood vessels and internal organs, leading to complications including:

 

  • Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and kidney failure
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Stroke
  • Nerve damage
  • Vision problems and blindness
  • Foot problems
  • Frequent infections or cuts that don’t heal
  • Gum disease and infections

Hypoglycemia

In addition to complications from having blood sugar levels that are too high, people with type 1 diabetes also have to watch out for hypoglycemia, or blood sugar that’s too low. This can happen when the person takes too much insulin, or if they skip a meal. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can include disorientation, cold sweats, fatigue, anxiety, and trembling. If you don’t treat the problem, it can lead you to have a seizure or pass out. 

Treatment

Type 1 diabetes can be managed with medical treatment and lifestyle changes. To manage type 1 diabetes, you will need to monitor your blood sugar levels regularly and take insulin, either through injections or with an insulin pump. You may also need to take other medications. 

 

Counting carbs and eating a healthy diet, eating meals and snacks on a regular schedule, and getting regular exercise can also help keep your blood sugar levels steady. It’s also important to get enough sleep and learn how to manage stress. Your doctor may want you to work with a dietitian or other specialists to help you keep your healthy lifestyle on track.

Curing Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is still considered a chronic, lifelong disease, but scientists are actively working on a cure. At the Diabetes Research Institute, scientists are focused on developing a biological cure for type 1 diabetes. One possibility is a technique called islet transplantation, in which insulin-producing cells from a healthy pancreas are transplanted into someone with type 1 diabetes. In trials, this procedure has allowed some patients with type 1 diabetes to take less insulin, or even live insulin free. Studies are now underway to make this procedure easier, more effective, and more widely available. 

 

The bottom line is, if you or someone in your family is having type 1 diabetes symptoms, it’s important to take it seriously and get help right away. Type 1 diabetes is a serious disease with potentially life-threatening complications, but there are tools to help manage it. By catching symptoms early and starting treatment, you can prevent more severe problems down the road.

 

Written by: Ilima Loomis

 

The Diabetes Research Institute Foundation's What is Diabetes? brochure has important information about type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and more.
Get more answers to your questions about type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes symptoms and treatments. (In Spanish: ¿Que es La Diabetes?).
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Diabetes Research Institute Foundation's Guide for School Personnel and Childcare Providers
Educate teachers, school personnel and other child care providers about taking care of your child with type 1 diabetes. 
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Become a DRI Insider and learn more about our progress toward a cure for diabetes.
Get news about research toward a cure, diabetes management tips, information for parents of children with type 1 diabetes and more. Sign up and become a DRI Insider today!
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A Guide for School Personnel and Child Care Providers

Educate teachers, school personnel and other child care providers about taking care of your child with type 1 diabetes. Download this helpful guide now.