Type 1 Diabetes: Symptoms, Treatments, and Long-Term Outlook

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that destroys insulin-making cells in the pancreas. There is no cure, but with diligent management and lifestyle changes, you can lead a normal life with diabetes. Read on to learn more about type 1 diabetes.

8 minute read

Last Updated July 15, 2020

Type 1 Diabetes: Symptoms, Treatments, and Long-Term Outlook

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that destroys insulin-making cells in the pancreas. Insulin allows your body to use glucose for energy, and without it, glucose cannot pass from the blood to your cells. 

When your body has enough glucose for energy, the excess is stored in your liver and tissues and released later when needed. Without insulin, too much glucose circulates through the blood, which can cause serious health problems.

Type 1 Diabetes Causes

The exact cause for type 1 diabetes is not known, but it is believed by medical professionals to be an autoimmune disease. The immune system attacks healthy beta cells in the pancreas by mistake, disabling their ability to make insulin. 

It has also been found that environmental factors such as viruses and genetic factors also play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes. 

Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms

Type 1 diabetes is identified by the following symptoms:

♦ Excessive thirst and hunger
♦ Blurred vision
Fatigue
♦ Dramatic weight loss
♦ Frequent urination

In some cases, people can develop ketoacidosis, which is a complication of type 1 diabetes. The symptoms for ketoacidosis include:

♦ Flushed face
♦ Rapid breathing
♦ Dry skin and mouth
Nausea and vomiting

Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis

A series of tests are required to accurately diagnose type 1 diabetes. People are diagnosed if they meet any of the following criteria:

♦ Random blood sugar greater than 200 mg/dL while showing diabetes symptoms
♦ Fasting blood sugar greater than 126 mg/dL on two different tests
♦ Hemoglobin A1c count is greater than 6.5 on two different tests

These same tests can also be used to diagnose type 2 diabetes. There are some cases where people have been misdiagnosed. The only way to know if you have been mistakenly diagnosed is when treatment begins, and your symptoms get worse.  

Type 1 Diabetes Treatment

With type 1 diabetes, your body cannot make its own insulin, so treatment is designed to produce and release insulin for you. There are two main treatment options for those with type 1 diabetes.

Insulin injections: An injection of insulin is taken each day. Some people use an insulin pump instead, which injects the insulin through a port in the skin. People with type 1 diabetes have to regularly test their blood sugar levels throughout the day to determine how much insulin they need.

Metformin: This is a diabetes medication that helps to lower blood sugar levels by reducing sugar production in the liver. Many use this in addition to insulin, but it can also cause insulin resistance. This means that eventually, the injections will not work as well as they are designed to. 

Type 1 Diabetes Diet

Managing your diet is especially effective in treating type 1 diabetes. The right diet should maximize nutrition while keeping the consumption of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins low. 

Without the right diet and treatment, you run the risk of serious complications such as vision problems, hypertension, heart disease, kidney damage, and nerve damage. 

There is not a universal diet that works for all type 1 diabetes patients. It’s important to understand how your body processes certain foods and makes necessary adjustments, and this can help you find what best works for you. In general, the tips to follow include:

♦ Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger ones.

♦ Make sure you exercise according to your carbohydrate intake to stay balanced.

♦ Monitor your reactions to carbohydrates closely, as some metabolize faster than others.

♦ Fruits contain natural sugars, so keep track of how much you eat, aiming for 15 grams at a time.

♦ Some vegetables contain starch and need to be monitored, but others do not. You can eat up to three cups a day of non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, carrots, celery, cucumber, onions, tomatoes, and peppers.

♦ Proteins and healthy fats are essential to your overall well-being but need to be monitored too. Unhealthy fats will not directly impact blood glucose levels, but they can impact your heart health, which is closely related to diabetes. 

Natural Treatments for Type 1 Diabetes

The only treatment for type 1 diabetes is insulin. There are, however, natural herbs and spices that have the ability to lower blood sugar and may prove helpful as part of an overall treatment plan. You do have to be sure to discuss any natural treatments with your doctor first.

Fenugreek seeds: Studies have found that these seeds have the ability to reduce blood sugar levels in those with type 1 diabetes when taken twice daily.

Turmeric: This anti-inflammatory spice is known to reduce inflammation, which is a common complication with type 1 diabetes. This can help reduce symptoms and provide well-rounded treatment for the condition. 

Magnesium: While this does not help diabetes directly, it is known that those with type 1 diabetes also have low magnesium levels. Taking a supplement can help prevent health complications. 

In addition to diet and herbal supplements, getting regular exercise is beneficial for patients with type 1 diabetes. Exercise boosts your overall health, but can also help maintain healthy blood sugar levels with proper care. 

It is important to monitor and plan your diet, exercise, and blood glucose levels to establish what to eat and when to exercise to best benefit your body. 

Some people experience higher blood sugar levels after exercise, and some experience drops in sugar levels. You need to know how exercise affects you, so you do not overdo the physical activity. 

Type 1 Diabetes Surgery

In some cases, surgery may be an option for those with type 2 diabetes. Pancreas transplantation is a risky procedure but has improved over the years. The success rate is good, with 85 percent of patients becoming insulin-independent after one year of the transplant. 

There are small complications associated with the pancreas transplantation procedure such as infection, inflammation, and blood clots in the surrounding blood vessels. All patients that have to get pancreas transplants will need to take immunosuppressant drugs as well. 

Type 1 Diabetes Statistics

♦ More than 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes.

♦ Every year, 40,000 people are diagnosed in the United States.

♦ Type 1 diabetes (and type 2) is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Type 1 Diabetes and Children

Type 1 diabetes can occur in children and is known as juvenile diabetes.  The symptoms of diabetes in children include:

♦ Feeling weak or fatigued
♦ Being hungry and thirsty more often
♦ Mood changes
♦ Weight loss
♦ Wetting the bed or urinating more frequently
♦ Blurred vision

Most children are treated in the same way as adults with insulin injections and blood sugar monitoring. In some cases, an artificial pancreas that has recently been approved for use can be used. This is inserted under the skin and measures blood sugar on a continual basis and automatically releases insulin when needed.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

One study found that the average life expectancy of a person with type 1 diabetes is 12 years shorter than the average population. With proper management, you can reduce the complications of type 1 diabetes and prolong life expectancy. 

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that cannot be cured, but with diligent management and care, as well as lifestyle and diet changes, you can lead a normal life with diabetes. 

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