Once known as Juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes is an auto immune disease that causes the body to attack its own insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Unfortunately, these insulin producing cells, technically known as islet cells, cannot be reproduced by the body and insulin has to be delivered to the body through insulin injections. There is no way to stop type 1 diabetes from developing and no way to cure it once it has been diagnosed. Once the cells are attacked the patient will be insulin dependent for the rest of his or her life.
Causes of Type 1 Diabetes
Unfortunately, no one knows exactly why the body of type 1 diabetes patients attacks the cells because usually the body only tries to attack foreign bodies such as bacteria and viruses. Many scientists believe that there has to be viruses or environmental toxins that induce the attack but so far there is no concrete evidence to support that theory. We do know that what happens is that the body begins to produce islet cell auto antibodies, insulin auto antibodies, and antibodies to glutamic acid decarboxylase. A simple blood test can tell a doctor whether or not a patient has these antibodies, and if they do diabetes is present. Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed when fasting plasma blood sugar is 126 mg/dl or higher or if the blood sugar levels are over 200 mg/dl two hours after eating.
More than 14 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes to date and the number is growing every day. Diabetes is considered an epidemic in our society, though we usually hear more about type 2 diabetes as it can be linked to poor diet and lifestyle. Unlike type 2 diabetes you cannot prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes. No one is to blame when type 1 is present; it’s simply a result of the body attacking itself.
Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes
There are many symptoms that may signal to you and your doctor that you have type 1 diabetes. First, you may notice an increase in urination. The reason for this is that the blood sugar levels are rising and the body is trying to get rid of it by flushing it out of the body through the kidneys, hence the increase in urine. You will likely notice extreme thirst as well; this is also the body trying to re-hydrate itself since there is an increase in urine. Most of the bodily fluids will begin to smell fruity or sweet, including saliva, urine, sweat, and even the breath will smell sweet.
Late in the onset of type 1 diabetes there will usually be a significant weight loss. The reason for this is that the body is literally starving to death because glucose cannot enter the cells without the presence of insulin and so the cells begin to break down body fat for energy. This can cause extreme weight loss of more than five pounds a day, if not more. This will be gradual at first, but if medical attention is not sought it can become quite rapid. Because of the weight loss most people at this point do not feel well at all and lack the energy to do even simple things.
Many people cannot stop from eating because their body is literally wasting away, which usually makes the problem worse!
As time goes on the body will begin to produce ketones, which are a byproduct of the fat break down. Too many ketones in the body are poisonous and simply make the patient feel horrible. Blurred visions, pain in the extremities, as well as the stomach are very common. This phase is known as diabetic ketoacidosis and is literally a poisoning of the body. Patients in this state have a life threatening problem on their hands and they may be unable to stay awake, they will be very tired, may have hard time breathing, and could slip into a coma and even die.
Treatment of Type 1 Diabetes
The only treatment for type 1 diabetes is insulin. It’s important to remember that insulin is not a cure, just a treatment. A person with type 1 diabetes will always be dependent on insulin to stay alive. Insulin is administered through either a syringe or through an insulin pump, but must be taken several times a day to achieve somewhat level amounts of insulin the body. This means that diabetes patients must also follow a specific diet, eating at the same times each day and even eating about the same amount every day.
Exercise is also an important part of type 1 diabetes treatment. The reason for this is that the more one exercises the less insulin they will need. Exercise is a natural glucose burner and will help the body maintain healthy levels of glucose in the blood. The problem is that it is very hard to find a balance between too much glucose and too much insulin. There are several types of insulin, which most patients’ mix to help achieve the healthiest levels of both insulin and glucose.
Patients monitor their glucose as many as ten times a day. Those with type 1 diabetes can develop very low blood sugar levels which can result in fainting or seizures. Monitoring the glucose several times a day will help the patient to avoid high and low blood sugar levels, which can cause problems in the future. Patients also must be subjected to a test every few months that will test their average blood glucose levels for a 30 day period. This is important because it gives the patient as well as doctors an idea of how well controlled the patient is at all times. This test gives doctors an idea of what may need to change in the patients care so that he or she does not suffer from diabetes related complications later on.
Ongoing Diabetes Care
Most people with type 1 diabetes see an endocrinologist, which is a doctor that specializes in the function of the pancreas, at least three to four times a year. This allows a doctor to help the patient maintain somewhat healthy glucose levels so that they do not suffer from diabetes complications such as heart disease, liver and kidney damage, as well as blindness and neuropathy. Patients monitor their blood glucose several times a day and try to keep the glucose levels between 80 and 130. Doctors can monitor the results and help patients attempt to change their lifestyle, their insulin dosages, or activity to achieve better results.
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease that requires a lot of care and support for the afflicted individual. The rights of diabetes patients are improving all the time and research is ongoing to find a cure for this disease.