So what is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 represents 10-15% of all cases of diabetes worldwide. It is an autoimmune disorder where your body’s immune system destroys cells in your pancreas that produce the hormone insulin. This means you need to replace the insulin your body would normally make by injection or insulin pump. Having injected insulin, you then need to balance it with the food you eat, the physical activity you undertake, and other factors like stress and lack of sleep that affect the rise and fall of your blood glucose levels. By monitoring your blood glucose levels regularly, you can make sure you are getting the balance right!
Who is at risk?
Type 1 can occur at any age, but is more commonly diagnosed in children and young adults. Those diagnosed tend to be in the normal or slightly underweight range and may have a family history of type 1, or other autoimmune conditions such as thyroid or coeliac disease (gluten intolerance).
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms of type 1 are:
- Excessive thirst
- Passing more urine than usual
- Feeling tired and lethargic
- Always feeling hungry
- Having cuts that heal slowly
- Itchy or infected skin
- Blurred vision
- Unexplained weight loss
- Mood swings
- Feeling dizzy
- Leg cramps
How is type 1 diagnosed?
Type 1 is most commonly diagnosed via a simple blood test that measures the amount of glucose in your blood. If your blood glucose levels are high, and you have many of the symptoms above, then it’s likely that you have type 1. Your doctor may also do some additional blood tests that will measure your insulin production and autoimmune markers which reflect type 1 diabetes.
I’ve just been diagnosed with type 1 – is now the right time to panic?!
In a word – no! First of all, remember that you are not alone! 130,000 people in Australia have type 1 diabetes. Also remember that type 1 can be successfully managed with insulin, regular blood glucose monitoring, good dietary management, regular exercise, and having a great care team in place. Your GP, endocrinologist, diabetes educator, dietitian, exercise physiologist, pharmacist and psychologist/counselor are great resources, especially when you’re new to managing type 1. Pepper them with all the questions that you can think of when you see them, and write down any that come to mind in between visits so that you can ask them later.
And enlist the help of a support system outside of your medical team, too – whether that’s your family and friends, a support group at your local hospital, or an online community like Diabetic Living’s Facebook page. Having people to cheer you through your victories, and help you through rough patches is vital for anyone living with a chronic condition.
What do I need to do to manage my type 1 well?
Type 1 diabetes is managed through a combination of insulin (given via multiple injections or an insulin pump) and monitoring your blood glucose levels regularly (either with a fingerprick test or continuous glucose monitor). To maintain good health with type 1, it’s also important to eat well and get regular exercise.
The main goal for people with type 1 is to try and keep your blood glucose levels as close as possible to your target range. Why? Because having blood glucose levels that are too low or high can cause short and long-term complications. In extreme cases, low blood glucose levels can cause hypoglycaemic coma and high blood glucose levels may result in Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), where too-little available insulin leads to acidic toxins called ketones. Blood glucose levels that remain high over long periods of time can lead to complications like eye, nerve, kidney and heart disease.
Generally speaking, the target range is a fasting blood glucose level of between 4 and 6 millimoles per litre (mmol/L) when you are fasting, and 4 and 8 mmol/L two hours after. However, this may vary depending on your age, lifestyle and other circumstances, so discuss your individual targets with your GP, endocrinologist and/or diabetes educator.
Can it be cured?
The exact cause of type 1 is not yet known, which means that it cannot prevented or cured. On the bright side, medical breakthroughs are being made all the time! Stay updated on the latest in type 1 innovations through our news feed.