What is Type 1 Diabetes: 8 Facts You Need to Know
August 13, 2021
Diabetes can affect anyone. It’s a serious disease that is life-threatening if left unnoticed and untreated. In this blog post, we will discuss the most severe form of the disease, which is type 1 diabetes. If you or your loved ones have been diagnosed or suspect you have the disease, then this post is definitely for you.
What is type 1 diabetes?
The body has an immune system that protects itself from infections and diseases. However, there are instances when the immune system attacks the body’s own cells. This is known as autoimmune disease.
Type 1 diabetes is a type of autoimmune disease in which the body’s autoimmune system specifically attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
Insulin is a hormone that acts as a key – allowing sugar or glucose to enter the cells and give them energy. Without enough insulin, the body cannot convert sugar into useful energy and will start to build up in the blood.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. As such, it inhibits the body’s ability to regulate the amount of sugar in the blood. This could go on if left unnoticed. Once left untreated, excess sugar in the bloodstream could damage the eyes, heart, kidneys, and other vital organs.
How common is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes compromises the body’s ability to produce insulin, prompting medical experts to call it insulin-dependent diabetes in the past. It was also called juvenile diabetes because it is often diagnosed in young people. In fact, in the US alone – 13,000 children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each year.
But anyone can develop the disease, and it is increasing at an alarming rate.
For instance, one extensive research about the prevalence and incidence of type 1 diabetes concluded that it is continually increasing across the globe. The research was a systematic review of 193 studies from January 1980 to September 2019 about the occurrence of diabetes across Asia, Africa, Europe, and America.
The findings of the research showed that the incidence and prevalence of type 1 diabetes among the world’s population were both statistically significant. According to the study, the incidence of type 1 diabetes is 15 people per 100,000, and its prevalence is 9.5 per 10,000. In general, people with type 1 diabetes comprise 5% of the population with diabetes.
Is type 1 diabetes hereditary?
A well-known myth about type 1 diabetes is that it is hereditary.
It is not genetically inherited. However, there are genetic risk factors that could predispose a person to develop the disease.
Each person has a particular combination of Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) genes in the body which is called a haplotype. There are certain variants of these HLA haplotypes that increase the likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes. But these variants are also found in most people, hence it remains difficult to pinpoint which variants are likely to cause the disease.
Currently, there is no identifiable genetic pattern for type 1 diabetes – that’s why it is medically incorrect to conclude that it is hereditary. But it is safe to say that the risk is higher for a person to develop the disease if it runs in the family.
Consulting a health care provider is the best way to check for genetic risks in developing type 1 diabetes, especially if symptoms manifest.
What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?
In type 1 diabetes, the autoimmune system continuously attacks the beta cells in the pancreas until it can no longer produce enough insulin.
Once the beta cells become dysfunctional, type 1 diabetes will manifest quickly. The disease often warns the affected individual by the severity of the symptoms. The early signs of type 1 diabetes are as follows:
- Increase thirst
- Extreme urination (may include bed-wetting in children)
- Rapid and unexpected weight loss
- Extreme hunger
- Extreme fatigue
- Fruity or sweet-smelling breath
- Blurry vision
- Numbing or tingling of the limbs
- Abdominal or stomach pain
- Unusual mood changes
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can easily be overlooked or associated with other health problems. Early detection of the disease is a crucial step to avoid its lifelong and life-threatening complications such as:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Kidney failure
- Nerve damage or neuropathy
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Erectile dysfunction
How is type 1 diabetes diagnosed?
Diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is done before or after the symptoms manifest. Blood tests are usually conducted to determine glucose levels. The blood tests commonly used for diagnosing type 1 diabetes are as follows:
Glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) test
HbA1c is considered the most comprehensive blood test. It indicates the average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. This test measures the percentage of blood sugar attached to the hemoglobin of the red blood cells. A person with an A1C level of 6.5% or higher is considered to have type 1 diabetes.
Fasting blood-glucose test
It is a test that requires a blood sample taken in the morning after fasting overnight. Blood sugar level is considered normal when it’s less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L).
Oral glucose tolerance test
This test is conducted after taking a fasting blood-glucose test. The person tested will be asked to take a sugary food after the initial blood test. The blood sugar is tested again after two hours to measure how the body is affected by the sugar intake.
Random blood-glucose test
This test randomly measures a person’s blood sugar level regardless of when a person last ate. A sugar level of 200 mg/dL or higher indicates type 1 diabetes risk when other signs of the disease exist concurrently.
Antibodies tests can also help in detecting type 1 diabetes. They are used to check if the immune system is attacking the body’s cells, like the beta cells and islets in the pancreas.
A urine test is also a good tool for diagnosis. It can determine the body’s ketone level. Ketones are the byproducts of the breakdown of fat and usually occur when the body does not have enough insulin to convert sugar to energy. A high ketone level usually indicates a higher probability of contracting type 1 diabetes.
Can type 1 diabetes be cured?
As of this writing, there is no scientifically known cure for diabetes. But we cannot lose our hope, especially when scientists around the world are continually making progress towards the development of a cure.
Treatment for type 1 diabetes is geared more toward the proper management of the disease to avoid its lifelong and life-threatening complications.
How is type 1 diabetes managed?
People with type 1 diabetes can still have happy and satisfying lives by properly managing the disease and by seeking the help of health care professionals. The following are some of the helpful ways to manage it:
Blood glucose monitoring
A doctor or an endocrinologist should be consulted first to determine the appropriate frequency of checking blood sugar levels. This should be done to ensure that the sugar in the bloodstream is in a normal range, to avoid negative effects or complications of the disease.
Checking blood glucose levels can be done by using blood glucose monitoring systems (BGMS). BGMS are electronic devices that require people with diabetes to prick a finger using a lancing device to get a small sample of blood. The blood drawn is then placed in a glucose test strip previously inserted into the glucose meter to determine the blood glucose value.
People with type 1 diabetes can also use Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) devices. CGM devices reduce the need to take fingerstick measurements using BGMS. They are typically attached to the body using a fine needle and check blood glucose levels every few minutes. However, since they are not considered standard for obtaining blood glucose values, people with diabetes should still use BGMS to ensure accuracy.
Because type 1 diabetes disables the pancreas to produce enough insulin, the affected person needs insulin injections. For insulin injections, the typical tools used are syringes and insulin pens. While injection sites may vary, abdominal injection above the belly button is considered the area that promotes the quickest absorption.
Wearing an insulin pump is another way of getting insulin. An insulin pump is a device inserted just under the skin and uses a tube or disposable pods that connect a supply of insulin to a catheter. Consulting a health care professional is necessary to determine the appropriate insulin dosage.
While exercise can help people with type 1 diabetes lower their blood glucose levels, they still need to consult a physician before engaging in any physical activity. People with type 1 diabetes might need to check their sugar level frequently, make dietary adjustments or modify insulin intake — depending on what their physicians deem necessary.
Healthy eating habits
People with type 1 diabetes need to be extra careful with their food choices, especially their sugar intake. They should seek the help of a dietitian in setting up a meal plan that is balanced, healthy, and diabetes-friendly. One effective way that people suffering from type 1 diabetes can develop healthy eating habits is by using digital health apps like Foogal. Foogal is an easy-to-use app that people with type 1 diabetes can use to plan and prepare healthy, delicious meals that are truly suitable for their health condition.
Diabetes management will remain a lifelong challenge until medical advancements can offer a cure. Thankfully, clinical studies for reversing type 1 diabetes have shown optimistic results.
Can type 1 diabetes be reversed?
A few of the most promising strides in the quest for reversing type 1 diabetes are the studies conducted by Dr. Shane Grey and his team at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.
Vaccine for immune attack
The team created a vaccine (BCMA-Fc) that aims to help the immune system recognize the beta cells as part of the body. In a clinical trial conducted in mice, the vaccine enabled several T-cells (the main culprit in the immune attack) to recognize the beta cells in the pancreas. It helped in decreasing the attackers and increased the helper antibodies. This study also backed up the US clinical trial of a related compound (rituximab) in people. The subjects were able to produce insulin for more than a year. Additional tests need to be conducted to confirm the vaccine’s efficacy in enabling the production of insulin.
Death-defying islets for transplantation
Islets contain the beta cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. Since type 1 diabetes destroys these islets, clinical studies were focused on transplanting new pancreatic islets in the body.
The transplants made were generally successful. However, Dr. Grey and his team found out that the islets are severely handicapped and full of inflammatory molecules. Since the molecules could potentially make an islet transplant a hit or miss endeavor, his team engineered islet grafts with anti-inflammatory compounds to ensure their survival. These modified islets were tested in mice and showed positive results. The team’s next move is testing the death-defying islets in people.
These clinical trials offer a glimpse of the possibility of restoring the body’s ability to produce enough insulin again. It’s just a matter of time before we’ll see whether type 1 diabetes can be reversed or not.
With early detection and the help of medical professionals, people with type 1 diabetes have a better chance of avoiding life-threatening conditions and can thrive. No one has to face or deal with it alone. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care team for professional help if you or your loved ones are diagnosed with or potentially at risk of developing the disease. After all, early detection is an inch closer to early intervention.
Visit Foogal now to learn how it can help you manage type 1 diabetes through healthy eating.
Disclaimer: This content is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.