Getting started with type 1 diabetes

If you've just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, here's what you need to know to get started:

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus type 1, juvenile diabetes, or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition. But what does that mean? What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system is unable to recognise your beta cells as belonging to your body. As a result, it attacks and destroys them – making it an autoimmune disease.

Unfortunately, beta cells are the cells in your pancreas which produce insulin, and insulin is an essential hormone that converts glucose into energy. Without insulin, the glucose in your body can’t be broken down and your blood glucose levels will increase. This can lead to serious health problems.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in childhood or adolescence, but it can also develop in adults.

While the exact type 1 diabetes causes are unknown, it’s generally believed that people with an underlying genetic predisposition are more likely to get type 1 diabetes.

However, that’s not always the case. Research has shown that some viruses and environmental factors might also contribute to the appearance of type 1 disease in children and adults.

Here are some of the risk factors associated with type 1 diabetes:

  1. Genetics – If you have certain genes (HLA class II) you may be at a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
  2. Family history – If someone in your family has type 1 diabetes, such as your parent, grandparent or siblings, you have an increased risk of developing it too.
  3. Age – Type 1 diabetes usually presents in children between the ages of 4-7 or 10-14 years old. However, type 1 diabetes can develop at any time, and it’s not uncommon for it to present in adults.
  4. Location – Rates of type 1 diabetes tend to be higher in northern climates. So the further you live from the equator, the higher your chance of developing the disease.
  5. Other autoimmune conditions – As type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, if you have other autoimmune conditions these can increase your risk of developing type 1 diabetes as well.
  6. Viral infections – Some viruses (such as German measles, mumps, and coxsackie) may trigger type 1 diabetes, encouraging your immune system to attack your body instead of defend it.

Again though, it’s important to remember that the specific causes of type 1 diabetes aren’t known. And it’s not uncommon for someone with no family history or pre-existing conditions to develop type 1 diabetes, even as an adult.

So even if you don’t have any of these risk factors, if you’re experiencing the symptoms of type 1 diabetes you should get yourself tested for it.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

There are several different types of diabetes. The most common are type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and people often get confused between the two.

So, what is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

The main differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the cause, and the level of insulin produced.

Type 1 diabetes is generally thought to be an inherited autoimmune disease, and type 1 diabetics produce either no insulin or very little.

Type 2 diabetes on the other hand typically develops due to lifestyle, and type 2 diabetics still produce a normal level of insulin. However, their cells have lost sensitivity to insulin, and the insulin they produce is not sufficient to keep their blood glucose at a healthy level.

Here are some of the other ways type 1 and type 2 diabetes are different:

Type 1 Diabetes Type 2 Diabetes
Age of onset: Usually occurs in children Commonly occurs in middle-aged adults (over 40 years old)
Speed of onset: Develops quickly, and suddenly Develops slowly, and gradually
Prevalence: Less than 10% of all diabetes cases More than 80% of all diabetes cases
Treatment: Injections of insulin are required to control blood glucose levels Can often be managed through lifestyle changes, such as weight reduction, physical exercise, and diet. Blood glucose levels can be controlled through oral medications, and insulin injections are only required in severe cases
Prevention: No known methods of prevention May be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices

What now?

Now that you know what type 1 diabetes is, and what causes it, it’s time to think about how to live with it:

  • Understand the symptoms If you’ve not been diagnosed, what are the signs and symptoms that can help you identify if you have type 1 diabetes? How can you tell if your blood glucose levels are high or low?
  • Know the treatment As a type 1 diabetic, you’ll need to take regular injections of insulin. How much insulin do you need, and how often should you take it? Are there different types of insulin, and how do you measure blood glucose levels?
  • Learn to live with itWhat does having type 1 diabetes mean for you and your lifestyle? How will a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes affect your diet, exercise program, and travel plans?

Type 1 diabetes is a disease that requires a lot of awareness and control. However, with the right planning and lifestyle choices, you can still lead a healthy and complication-free life.

And it starts with getting informed, staying active, and keeping a positive mindset.

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