What is Type 1 Diabetes?

The more severe form of diabetes is type 1, or insulin-dependent diabetes. It’s sometimes called “juvenile” diabetes, because type 1 diabetes usually develops in children and teenagers, though it can develop at any age.

Immune System Attacks

With type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks part of its own pancreas. Scientists are not sure why. But the immune system mistakenly sees the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas as foreign, and destroys them. This attack is known as “autoimmune” disease.

These cells – called “islets” (pronounced EYE-lets) – are the ones that sense glucose in the blood and, in response, produce the necessary amount of insulin to normalize blood sugars.

Insulin serves as a “key” to open your cells, to allow the glucose to enter — and allow you to use the glucose for energy.

Without insulin, there is no “key.”   So, the sugar stays — and builds up– in the blood. The result: the body’s cells starve from the lack of glucose.

And, if left untreated, the high level of “blood sugar” can damage eyes, kidneys, nerves, and the heart, and can also lead to coma and death.

Insulin Therapy

So, a person with type 1 treats the disease by taking insulin injections.

This outside source of insulin now serves as the “key” — bringing glucose to the body’s cells.

The challenge with this treatment is that it’s often not possible to know precisely how much insulin to take. The amount is based on many factors, including:

  • Food
  • Exercise
  • Stress
  • Emotions and general health

Balancing Act

These factors fluctuate greatly throughout every day. So, deciding on what dose of insulin to take is a complicated balancing act.

If you take too much, then your body burns too much glucose — and your blood sugar can drop to a dangerously low level. This is a condition called hypoglycemia, which, if untreated, can be potentially life-threatening.

If you take too little insulin, your body can again be starved of the energy it needs, and your blood sugar can rise to a dangerously high level — a condition called hyperglycemia. This also increases the chance of long-term complications.

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