When you hear someone say that they have Type 1 diabetes, what immediately comes to your mind? Is it: A) She shouldn’t put that sugar in her coffee. B) No way. Aren’t all people with diabetes overweight? C) Wait – is Type 1 the bad kind or the good kind? D) Hmm, I wish I knew more about diabetes.
This may surprise you, but the correct responses are: A) Why not? People with Type 1 diabetes can have some sugar. B) The cause of Type 1 diabetes is completely unrelated to weight. C) There really is no “good” diabetes. But often people think of Type 1 diabetes as the “bad” kind, because until recently, people with Type 1 had to stick themselves with several large needles every day. D) Read on, and you will know more about diabetes!
The first thing to know about Type 1 is that:
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease
In an autoimmune disease, the body’s immune system mistakenly thinks that certain parts of the body are ‘foreign’ and should be destroyed. In this case, the immune system attacks insulin-producing beta cells in an organ called the pancreas. The pancreas therefore becomes unable to produce insulin, a hormone necessary for life.
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is believed to develop when a person with a genetic predisposition is affected by an environmental trigger such as a virus or chemical exposure.
What does insulin do?
Insulin helps our bodies produce the energy needed for virtually everything we do. The source of most of our energy is carbohydrate, mainly found in sweet or starchy foods such as:
–Noodles –Potatoes –Beans –Candy –Soda –Bread –Fruits, and even vegetables.
In the body, carbohydrates become glucose, a type of sugar. Glucose is carried by the bloodstream to our cells to make energy. Glucose needs insulin to enter most cells. Without insulin, sugar accumulates in the bloodstream. This is called blood sugar and we need to have some – but not too much – at all times.
How can people survive if they don’t make insulin?
Insulin can be man-made and injected into the body with a needle and syringe or a pen-type device. It can also be infused through a small pump worn almost all of the time. An inhaled insulin is available but is not widely used.
How does a person with T1D know how much insulin to take?
Unfortunately, even the most experienced insulin users do not always take the exact amount needed. There are many variables that affect the dose, and most of the variables are uncontrollable.
First, the dose is based on how many grams of carbs, if any, the person is going to eat. If that were the only variable, it would be easy to manage blood sugar!
However, people with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin even if they are not eating. This is because our bodies store extra glucose (mostly in the liver) to use when we are not eating. The liver releases that extra glucose in response to certain conditions including:
–Physical activity –Presence of other hormones –Time of day –Emotional or physical stress –Illness –Amount of the previous dose of insulin remaining in the body
Before taking insulin, the person must check their blood sugar to know how high or low it is. If blood sugar is low, it can be dangerous to take insulin. If blood sugar is high, extra insulin might be needed.
How is blood sugar checked?
There are two different ways that people can check their own blood sugar: 1) Fingerstick – The person puts a small drop of blood from a fingertip into a pocket-sized device called a glucometer. The blood sugar number is displayed on the glucometer’s screen. 2) Continuous glucose monitor (CGM) – A thin wire placed under the skin continually transmits their blood sugar number to the a cellphone or small handheld receiver. New technology allows some CGMs to work directly with pumps to regulate the amount of insulin delivered.
What happens if blood sugar is too high?
Symptoms of high blood sugar, called hyperglycemia, include: –Headache –Thirst –Dry skin –Frequent urination –Lack of energy –Irritability –Hunger –Difficulty concentrating –Blurred vision
Over the long term, frequent or continuous hyperglycemia causes problems such as: –Vision changes/ blindness –Kidney damage/kidney failure –Decreased sensation in the hands or feet –Digestive difficulties –Poor wound healing –Neuropathy, or nerve pain, especially in the feet –Cardiovascular disease
What happens if insulin is not available?
If insulin is not available, the body uses fat instead of sugar to produce energy. By-products of using fat instead of sugar are called ketones. Having too many ketones can quickly lead to a dangerous condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is a medical emergency. Signs and symptoms of DKA include: –Stomachache –Nausea –Vomiting –Ketones: first found in blood and later in urine –Fruity-smelling breath –Rapid shallow breathing –Difficulty staying awake –Coma
What happens if blood sugar is too low?
If there is too much insulin in the body, the amount of glucose in the bloodstream drops. This is called hypoglycemia. The brain can’t function without the proper level of glucose, so hypoglycemia can quickly become a life-threatening emergency. Initial signs and symptoms can vary widely but include: –Hunger –Clammy, cold skin –Feeling shaky –Feeling lightheaded or dizzy –Appearing to “zone out” –Poor judgment
Treatment for low blood sugar is a source of fast-acting sugar such as: –glucose tablets or gel –juice –sugary candies –honey –sugar
Foods with added fat, such as chocolate bars or cake are less effective because fat delays absorption of glucose. If sugar is not available and blood sugar continues to fall, the person may appear confused, disoriented, sleepy, or weak, and have slurred speech, followed eventually by seizures and coma.
If the person becomes unable to safely swallow a source of sugar, they will need someone to give them an injection of a medicine called glucagon. Glucagon comes in a pre-measured kit and should ideally be carried by everyone with T1D. Although most people will never need a glucagon injection, caregivers should periodically review the directions in order to be prepared for an emergency.
Who gets Type 1 diabetes?
Approximately 75% of people with Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed as children, although it is possible to develop it at any age. Geography plays a role. Historically, many developing countries have had lower published rates of Type 1 diabetes, although the incidence in developing countries appears to be rising. It is unclear if the actual incidence of Type 1 is rising or if the increase can be attributed to improved diagnosis, better data, and/or greater availability of data.
People with relatives who have Type 1 diabetes or other autoimmune diseases – or who have other autoimmune diseases themselves – are at higher risk of developing T1D. These diseases commonly include: –Thyroid disease –Addison’s disease –Celiac disease –Autoimmune gastritis
Can Type 1 diabetes be cured?
For most people, Type 1 diabetes is incurable. Pancreas transplants can provide a cure for some length of time, but the risks associated with surgery and the side effects of anti-rejection drugs currently outweigh the benefits. Promising research is being done on other ways to cure diabetes or to control blood sugar automatically. Recent advances in technology have made Type 1 diabetes much more manageable than it was even a year or two ago. However, even with access to the best technology, managing blood sugar effectively requires constant planning, discipline, knowledge, calculations, and sometimes a bit of luck.
Having said all that, it is important to recognize that most people with Type 1 diabetes can and do participate in the same activities as anyone else, and enjoy full, active, productive, and long lives!
How Halza can help
Keep your diabetes under control with the Halza app. Track vital signs like your weight, glucose levels and blood pressure, and update your doctors and loved ones on your status. Upload any and all test results and medical reports in one secure and convenient location with ease. In case of emergencies, stay prepared with QuickShare by giving your doctor access to your complete medical information. The Halza app also lets you schedule medicine reminders at your convenience. Receive the support you need from family and friends through the adorable Emoji Blast®! Learn more about the Halza app here.