Put simply: Type 1 diabetes is an elevation in blood sugars that occurs when a sugar called glucose can’t get into your fat and muscles where it is needed. In order for a cell in your body to gain access to glucose, it needs a small molecule called insulin. This ‘key’ unlocks the door into the cell. People with type 1 diabetes no longer produce insulin for a number of reasons.
The more complex story: Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas, or more specifically specialised cells within the pancreas called beta cells, fail to produce insulin. The most simple example is someone who has had their pancreas removed and in that situation, they develop type 1 immediately after the operation. This is however an unusual cause. Most people with type 1 diabetes develop the condition when the immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells. Why this occurs is the source of much scientific investigation but put simply it is likely that the immune system is confused and recognises beta cells as being a foreign object (such as a virus) and wages a war against it. The fall in insulin production can either be rapid or slow. People with type 1 can therefore either develop symptoms rapidly over a few months or more slowly over a few years.
Who is at risk? The simple answer is anyone although it is more likely if someone in your family has type 1 or perhaps another autoimmune disease like coeliac disease. It can occur at any age but typically doesn’t develop in the first year of life. Even though it is often associated with children, half the people who develop type 1 are over the age of 30.
What are the symptoms? The most common symptoms are thirst and excessive trips to the toilet to pass urine. This occurs as high blood sugars pass into the urine and with the sugar, goes water. If the blood sugar is very elevated little sugar is able to get into muscle and fat cells so there can be quite profound weight loss and muscle mass rapidly declines. In the early part of the illness, these symptoms can be mild and difficult to detect.
What to do? The first thing if you suspect you may have diabetes is to get you blood sugar tested and that is normally by your doctor. They may perform a finger prick test or a more accurate laboratory blood test. Once diagnosed it is very important to get educated!! Once you know what is happening and what to do, you can get back to feeling good again.
Type 1 Diabetes Program