Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes used to be called “Juvenile Diabetes,” because the symptoms usually manifest during adolescence. However, if you look at recent statistics, you will notice even adults develop type 1 diabetes. With this condition, the patient usually requires insulin injections to regulate the level of glucose in their body.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition, where the pancreas does not produce enough insulin for the body’s needs.

Remember, in the body of a healthy person, the pancreas contains beta cells that recognize when adequate glucose has been released into specific cells and trigger the action of insulin.

A person with type 1 diabetes has a pancreas with no functioning beta cells. When they consume something with a high sugar or carbohydrate content, the food is broken down into glucose, but when the glucose passes through the pancreas, there are no beta cells to trigger the production of insulin. This means no insulin “guides” the glucose to enter cells to help them function; or for storage. The excess glucose is not stored in the fat and muscle cells, or liver – it will instead remain in the bloodstream.

Causes of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus

There are two possible causes of type 1 diabetes. The most common is an autoimmune disease, that prevents the cells from producing insulin. The second, is an acquired disease that causes the pancreas to malfunction.

Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, as an Autoimmune Disease

An autoimmune disease is a disorder that causes your immune system to malfunction. It is unable to recognize healthy cells, and mistakenly identifies them as foreign invaders. The body then proceeds to destroy them, which can cause great harm to various tissue, structures and organs.

Type 1 diabetes may be caused by an autoimmune disorder, where your body refuses to recognize the beta cells as “good cells.” Your immune system attacks them, and renders them incapable of producing insulin. Without the insulin, the levels of glucose in the bloodstream continues to rise and eventually becomes toxic.

Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, as an Acquired Disease

This second type of diabetes is rare. Type 1 diabetes is rarely acquired, but when it is, it is usually due to a physical event that affects the pancreas, such as pancreatic cancer or an accident that causes injury to the pancreas.

The pancreas fails to create enough beta cells required to produce a sufficient amount of insulin for the body’s requirements.

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are similar. The difference is, that symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually manifest at an earlier age.

  1. Frequent urination
  2. Excessive thirst
  3. Bedwetting
  4. Easily tired or exhausted
  5. Sleepy
  6. Extreme hunger
  7. Blurred vision
  8. Vaginal yeast infection(Thrush)
  9. Weight loss or difficulty gaining weight

However, these symptoms may not always be due to Type 1 diabetes. They may be caused by another disease or condition. Hence, for the symptoms to be indicative of diabetes, the following conditions must be met:

  • Sudden onset—The person has not experienced the symptoms before. They did not do, or experience any physical activity that may have caused it.
  • After the first appearance of a symptom, it persists. 
  • Two or more symptoms on the list are present.

1. Frequent Urination

To illustrate:

Your child wets the bed for the first time, and they did not take any diuretic medication that could have caused it. You note that it has occurred multiple times in a week. He is also sleepy a lot of the time.

In the above example, the child’s bedwetting may be a symptom of Type 1 diabetes.

If, however, your child is given a diuretic every day, for 7 days and they wet the bed during those 7 nights. However, when they stop taking the medication, the bedwetting stops. This is not likely to be caused by Type 1 diabetes, even if they tend to be sleepy most of the time.

The symptoms had manifested before the patient reached the age of 20.

2. Excessive Thirst

On average, an adult may urinate up to 8 to 10 times a day, while a child may urinate 10 to 14 times a day. If the number of times you urinate exceeds the average by 20%, then it may be considered frequent. Therefore, if an adult urinates upwards of 12 times a day and the child urinates 16 to 18 times a day, this would be considered frequency.

Other evidence is of frequency is when a person wakes during the night, just to urinate. According to studies, when we sleep, the body regulates our system. If we wake to urinate then there may be something wrong.

How to tell if thirst is excessive

Normally, a child will only drink one glass of water whenever they are thirsty and an adult may drink one to two glasses of water. This amount is enough to quench normal thirst. However, if the child or adult frequently drink more than this, without any obvious reason (e.g. running around or working out,) they may be suffering from excessive thirst, due to diabetes mellitus.

N.B: There are many reasons a person may become excessively thirsty. They may be suffering from dehydration due to the summer heat or because of physical activity. In the absence of any obvious reasons, excessive thirst may be a symptom of a medical condition such as diabetes.

3. Blurred Vision

For blurred vision to become a symptom of diabetes, it must be frequent and not continuous. If the blurred vision is continuous, it may be a symptom of eye disorder or disease. If you frequently experience blurred vision, which comes and goes, it may be a sign of degeneration, which can be a complication of diabetes.

4. Exhaustion, Fatigue and Sleepiness

Exhaustion, fatigue and sleepiness are common for any person who experiences strenuous physical activity. However, if the person gets adequate sleep and rest, but is still tired and sleepy, it may be a symptom of diabetes.

5. Extreme Hunger

Hunger is considered extreme when a person eats a full meal, every two hours; and this hunger occurs for several days. If they eat more than usual just for a day, it would not be considered extreme hunger.

Extreme and unusual hunger, as a symptom of diabetes, occurs because your body cells do not receive glucose, therefore no signal is sent to your brain to tell you you’re full. Your brain still thinks you are depriving yourself of food.

6. Sudden Weight Loss or Difficulty Gaining Weight

Weight loss can be considered sudden, if the person loses more than ten percent of their weight in a month. This is without being on a weight loss diet, or engaging in any weight loss activity.

A person is defined as having difficulty gaining weight, if they cannot reach their ideal weight, despite eating food that has a high-fat content or observing a weight-gain diet.

This is again attributed to the failure of the cells to send signals to certain organs, due to a lack of glucose. Your body does not give the signal to your liver, to release fat cells that help you gain or lose weight. In addition, it doesn’t tell your body to develop more muscles cells to tone your body.

When to Visit a Doctor

You need to visit your doctor or specialist, if at least two of the symptoms described are present. Tests should be considered, particularly a urinalysis and a fasting blood sugar (FBS) test.

If the results of the tests are abnormal, you will need to make another appointment to see the doctor for interpretation, professional diagnoses and additional testing.

As a parent, if you notice sudden weight loss, extreme tiredness or weakness in your child, make sure to visit your pediatrician immediately. The doctor may order a fasting blood sugar on your child, further tests and examinations.

Complications of Type 1 Diabetes

With type 1 diabetes, the body is almost completely unable to produce insulin, whereas in type 2 diabetes, the body is merely experiencing insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, the body can still produce insulin, but the body cannot utilize it efficiently.

During the early part of the twentieth century, if a person was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, they were only given a life expectancy of one year. The disease itself, was not necessarily what shortened their lifespan. However, the complications that arose from the diabetes were.

Below are some complications of Type 1 diabetes. A few also occur in Type 2 Diabetes:


Due to a lack of insulin, the cells do not receive enough glucose to fuel the body. The body then must convert stored fat into energy, to compensate for the lack of glucose. However, this causes the liver to release ketones.

High levels of ketones in the body can cause complications, ranging from minor to severe. In fact, most symptoms of diabetes are due to ketoacidosis.

The effects of ketoacidosis:

  1. Frequent urination 
  2. Extreme thirst
  3. Cold skin
  4. Confusion
  5. Abdominal pain 
  6. Fruitybreath

Ketoacidosis is a serious symptom, and needs prompt emergency treatment, if a person is vomiting; can’t tolerate food or liquid, and has a blood sugar level of more than 300mg/dl or 16.7 mmol/L.

According to statistics, ketoacidosis occurs more frequently in people with type 1 diabetes, than those with type II diabetes.


This is more commonly known as nerve damage. High amounts of glucose in the blood may damage the nerves in the body’s system. Nerves send signals to organs in the body, triggering them to react. If they are damaged, then these signals can be broken or disrupted. This may result in numbness, or loss of sensation, then pain and weakness may follow.

Neuropathy usually starts with the nerves in the feet. The person may experience tingling and could lose sensation. They may not be able to feel when their feet are injured or irritated, thus making them more prone to infection.

This complication may also target other parts of the body, such as the wrists or ankles, can limit the use of the affected part, and in extreme cases cause paralysis.

It can also target the inner organs of the body, which make it hard for them to control their automatic reactions. An example of this is bedwetting, where the person’s bladder does not receive the signal, to prevent them urinating whilst asleep.


This is a microvascular complication of diabetes. The retinas are the part of our eyes that traps light, enabling us to see things around us. The light signals our optic nerve, so the latter can interpret what we are seeing.

Blood travels to the retinas in the eyes; but if there is a high amount of glucose present in the blood, the retinas may be damaged. When the retina is damaged, loss of vision may occur.


Other organs that may be damaged, due to a high level of glucose, are the kidneys. The kidneys act as a filter, separating toxins from the bloodstream. They produce liters of water, in the form of urine, to flush out these toxins. However, they are also responsible for distributing calcium and protein to other organs and producing hemoglobin for red blood cells.

The kidneys recognize the excess glucose in the bloodstream as a toxin, and therefore push the glucose out. If the level of glucose in the blood is constantly high, the kidneys must work harder and longer to flush the glucose out. This causes an affected person to urinate more frequently.

If the glucose level continues to rise, our kidneys will only focus on filtering it out of the blood, and “forget” about their other functions. The kidneys may become overworked, which may lead to nephropathy.

Heart Disease

High glucose levels in the blood can also result in heart disease. The excess glucose causes plaque to build up in the walls of the arteries and veins of the heart. The veins become clogged and the heart must work harder, to pump blood around the body’s system.

The heart will begin to weaken; and as it weakens, the person may suffer complications, such as hypertension (high blood pressure) or a cerebral vascular accident (stroke.)

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