How to recognise type 1 diabetes symptoms

The first step to tackling type 1 diabetes is recognising it. However, almost 50% of Indians living with diabetes don’t know they have it.

This is a problem, because taking the time to learn the symptoms of type 1 diabetes (and recognise the signs of high and low blood glucose levels) can help you not only secure an early diagnosis but also manage your diabetes more effectively moving forward.

Here’s what you need to know, to give you the best chance of recognising and managing type 1 diabetes:

What are type 1 diabetes symptoms and signs?

Keeping an eye out for type 1 diabetes symptoms, especially if you’re at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes, can help you secure an early diagnosis and allow you to manage your diabetes more effectively.

The most common type 1 diabetes symptoms include:

  • Peeing more often
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling hungry even after eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Slow healing cuts or bruises

The onset of type 1 diabetes symptoms can be very sudden. In fact, it’s not uncommon for symptoms to develop so quickly that new type 1 diabetic sufferers develop diabetic ketoacidosis (also known as DKA) before they’ve even received a type 1 diabetes diagnosis.

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a complication of type 1 diabetes that occurs when blood glucose levels are abnormally high. It happens when your body hasn’t produced enough insulin, and so can’t absorb sufficient nutrients into your cells. Your body needs energy, so it looks for alternative sources and starts to break down your muscle and fat to get it. When this happens, it causes ‘ketones’ (fatty acids) to build up in your blood and urine.

Unfortunately, for diabetics having a high level of ketones in your blood and urine can be very dangerous, and have serious health consequences – Your blood is literally becoming more acidic, which can lead to dehydration, coma and death.

The symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include:

  • fruity odor on the breath
  • heavy breathing
  • vomiting
  • stupor
  • unconsciousness

Uncommon and unusual symptoms of type 1 diabetes

As well as checking for the common type 1 diabetes symptoms, you should also be aware of and keep an eye out for the uncommon and unusual symptoms.

Uncommon and unusual symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:

  • blurring of vision (caused by dryness of your eyes)
  • unexpected cramping
  • skin infections
  • itchiness around the penis or vagina

While these symptoms are not as common as others, they do still happen, and it’s worth being aware of them and knowing what to look out for.

Do different age groups have different type 1 diabetes symptoms?

Type 1 diabetes typically presents with similar symptoms in adults, children, and adolescents.

However, there are some different signs you can look for in youngsters, to help you secure an early diagnosis and begin treatment quickly.

For teenage girls:

Young girls with type 1 diabetes may experience more yeast infections.

For children:

While symptoms may take a few days or weeks to develop in adults, the same symptoms of type 1 diabetes can often develop more quickly. They may even present within a few days or hours.

For toddlers:

Diagnosing any condition in toddlers and very young children is always going to be more challenging. However, a common tool to remember is to look for the ‘4Ts’:

  • Toilet: if your child is making frequent visits to the bathroom, or bedwetting.
  • Thirsty: if your child feels thirsty, even after drinking a lot of fluids.
  • Tired: if your child shows signs of weakness or is always tired.
  • Thinner: if your child is losing weight for no particular reason.

If your child is experiencing type 1 diabetes symptoms, you should seek medical advice immediately.

Is there a difference between type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes symptoms?

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes present with very similar symptoms.

However, because people with type 2 diabetes typically experience symptoms more slowly than people with type 1 diabetes, they may be diagnosed before they even notice the signs.

In contrast, as people with type 1 diabetes typically experience the onset of symptoms more quickly they will often notice the signs and seek medical attention, which then leads to their diagnosis.

The below chart shows some of the overlapping symptoms, as well as potential differences between type 1 vs type 2 diabetes symptoms.

Type 1 diabetes symptoms Type 2 diabetes symptoms
Frequent urination, especially at night Frequent urination, especially at night
Extreme thirst or hunger Extreme thirst or hunger
Unexplained weight loss Unexplained weight loss
Blurry vision Blurry vision
Fatigue Fatigue
Dry skin Dry skin
Slowly healing sores Slowly healing sores
More frequent infections More frequent infections
Stomach pains, nausea, or vomiting Tingling or numbness in hands or feet

What now - What to do if you have type 1 diabetes symptoms?

By learning to recognise the symptoms of type 1 diabetes you can respond to them faster. This can help you secure an earlier diagnosis, as well as help you better manage your diabetes moving forward, which lowers your risk of developing complications as a result of the disease.

If you have not yet been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and you experience any of the type 1 diabetes symptoms or the symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis, you should seek immediate help from your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will discuss your symptoms and may advise you to take some blood and urine tests.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the next step is learning how to treat it, and how to live with it, because type 1 diabetes is a condition that requires your attention every day.

You will need to:

And if you’re the parent of a child who has recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you should:

  • make more time for them, to help them learn how to measure their blood glucose levels, ensure they’re checking them regularly, and know how to take their insulin medication.
  • investigate insulin pumps, as these can help your child manage their blood glucose levels more autonomously and reduce their chances of developing hyperglycemia.
  • encourage your child to eat healthily, and incorporate physical activities into their routine, as this can help them more effectively control their blood glucose levels.

The most important thing to remember, whether you or a family member has just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, is don’t freak out.

A type 1 diagnosis is not the end of the world. If properly managed, you will still be able to live a happy, healthy life. And ongoing advancements in medical science are continually bettering the lives of diabetics and their options for treatment.

Just keep an eye out for type 1 diabetes symptoms, get diagnosed early, and manage and treat your diabetes as effectively as possible. This will help you avoid diabetic complications.

Frequently asked questions - Type 1 diabetes symptoms

How does type 1 diabetes develop?

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In type 1 diabetes, your body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin (the hormone which keeps your blood sugar level in control). This can cause glucose to build up in your bloodstream. Over time, high blood sugar can damage organs and tissues. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes can include increased thirst and urination, weight loss, fatigue and blurred vision, as well as frequent infections. If left untreated and not well managed, type 1 diabetes can progress and cause serious complications, such as nerve damage, kidney damage, heart disease, and blindness.

Can type 1 diabetes cause kidney failure?

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Yes, type 1 diabetes can cause kidney failure. It's a condition known as diabetic nephropathy. It happens over time, as high blood sugar levels damage the small blood vessels in the kidneys. This damage can lead to small amounts of protein (albumin) leaking into urine. This is called microalbuminuria. If left untreated, microalbuminuria can cause more severe kidney damage and eventually kidney failure. To prevent kidney failure from type 1 diabetes it's important to keep blood sugar levels under control.

Does type 1 diabetes cause erectile dysfunction?

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Yes, type 1 diabetes can cause erectile dysfunction (ED). Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and nerves, including those related to the penis. This can cause reduced blood flow to the penis, and decreased sensation, making it harder to achieve or maintain an erection. Some medications used to treat type 1 diabetes can also contribute to erectile dysfunction. Keeping blood sugar levels under control, and talking regularly with your healthcare provider about your condition and medications, can help reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction.

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