Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps control blood sugar or glucose (sugar) levels in the blood. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being transported to cells and converted into energy, which can lead to dangerous health complications.
Nine percent of the Canadian population, or about 3.5 million people, have been diagnosed with diabetes. Five to ten percent have type 1 diabetes, and the rest have type 2 diabetes. So today, we’ll take a look at 10 facts about type 1 diabetes. Do you know the following 10 facts?
- Type 1 diabetes was once known as “juvenile diabetes” or “insulin-dependent diabetes”. It usually develops during childhood or adolescence, but it can also affect adults. No remedy can cure it.
- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. In fact, the immune system keeps us from harmful organisms, likes of viruses and bacteria. No one knows the exact cause of type 1 diabetes, but it may be caused by genetic predisposition and environmental factors. (Researchers don’t believe weight is a factor, unlike type 2 diabetes.)
- Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include a family history of the disease (parent, or sibling) and possibly environmental factors (such as exposure to viruses, but this is not confirmed). Studies have also revealed that the incidence of type 1 diabetes is higher in countries far from the equator. Unfortunately, nothing else is known about the risk factors, and there are no recommendations for preventing this disease.
- Symptoms of type 1 diabetes can develop relatively quickly, over a period of weeks. They may include increased or unusual thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, unwanted weight loss or gain, fatigue, blurred vision, frequent or recurring infections, slow healing of cuts or bruising and mood swings (irritability).
- Type 1 diabetes is always treated with insulin, which must be injected using a pen, syringe or pump. The goal is to keep blood glucose or blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. People with diabetes should work with their doctor to determine how much insulin they need each day and how often. This will depend on their age, lifestyle, meal planning, goals, and other factors.
- To control their diabetes, sufferers must also monitor their blood sugar levels, carefully plan their meals to avoid sudden spikes in their blood sugar levels, adopt a healthy diet, manage stress, and exercise regularly. It is important that they work with their healthcare professional to get their condition under control.
- People with type 1 diabetes can have short-term complications if their blood sugar is too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia) compared to their target value. When blood sugar is too low, symptoms may include hunger, shaking, sweating, dizziness, fast or irregular heartbeat, headache, fatigue, irritability, or blurred vision. If not increased (by consuming a fast-acting carbohydrate, such as fruit juice or candy), other symptoms may include lethargy, confusion, coordination problems, behavioral changes, or seizures. If blood sugar is too high, symptoms may include increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, blurred vision, hunger and difficulty concentrating. This person may need more insulin to lower their blood sugar.
- If type 1 diabetes is not controlled or not well controlled over the long term, health complications may arise. These can include cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), heart attack, stroke or hypertension. Diabetes can also lead to nerve damage and even loss of feeling, usually starting in the fingers and toes and gradually moving higher. Nerve damage can also affect the gastrointestinal tract. Diabetes can also cause significant damage to the eyes, kidneys and feet, and can cause oral health problems. In pregnant women, type 1 diabetes increases the risk of complications for both mother and baby. At men’s,
- People with diabetes suffer from anxiety and depression more often than the rest of the population. It is important to see mental health specialists to treat these conditions. Talking to a doctor or diabetes educator is a good first step. People with diabetes can also get support from diabetes self-help groups in their community or online.
- Living with type 1 diabetes can sometimes be difficult and frustrating. It should not be forgotten that if this disease is well controlled, those affected can live a long and healthy life.