How to spot the signs of type 1 diabetes, plus what to do following a diagnosis.
By Dr Diana Gall
Diabetes is a condition that causes your blood glucose levels to become too high and, unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 is not related to diet or lifestyle. But do you know your type 1 diabetes from your type 2? Here’s how to spot the signs of type 1 diabetes, plus what to do following a diagnosis.
Dr Diana Gall from Doctor4U looks at the cause of type 1 diabetes and how to spot the signs of the illness, plus treatment advice and self-management tips:
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body can’t produce enough of the hormone insulin, which controls blood glucose. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is an important hormone in the body. It helps put glucose to good use, by fuelling our bodies and storing it for later when glucose levels drop. Without it, glucose builds up in the body, which can cause long-term complications.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, the lack of insulin production in type 1 is nothing to do with weight or lifestyle. It’s thought to most commonly occur when the body’s own immune system begins to attack and destroy the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, although the reason why this happens is as yet still unclear.
Type 1 diabetes signs and symptoms
While type 1 diabetes is developing, you may notice the following symptoms:
- Increased thirst
- The need to urinatemore than usual
- Weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Thrush or itching around the genitals, caused by an overgrowth of yeast
- Urinary tract infections
If you start noticing these symptoms, it’s vital that you visit your doctor for a type 1 diabetes test.
Type 1 diabetes risk factors
Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes to develop in childhood, but it can appear at any age. Most people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes before the age of 40.
Type 1 diabetes treatment
Once type 1 diabetes has been diagnosed, it’s usually treated with insulin injections, which need to be administered daily. Because type 1 diabetes is a long-term condition, insulin therapy of this type needs to continue for life, to control blood sugar levels. Frequent blood glucose monitoring is also needed, to ensure glucose levels are constantly regulated.
It’s important to take plenty of exercise and eating a balanced diet that contains a controlled amount of carbs.
As well as insulin treatment, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes taking plenty of exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet that contains a controlled amount of carbohydrates. Monitoring the amount of carbohydrates you’re eating, by learning to count carbohydrates, is a good way of keeping track of your blood glucose levels.
Type 1 diabetes self-care tips
While diet and lifestyle do not cause type 1 diabetes, it’s important to start leading a more healthy lifestyle once you’ve had a type 1 diabetes diagnosis, particularly if you have had some unhealthy habits in the past. These include:
- Stop smoking
- Don’t drink too much alcohol
- Exercise regularly
⚠️ Please note that you may need to adjust your insulin dose accordingly, depending on how much exercise you do. This is because when you exercise, your body uses glucose as fuel. If you have burned off more glucose than normal, you may not need such a high dose of insulin.
There will also be some important changes you’ll have to make to your daily life. You’ll need to regularly monitor your glucose levels throughout the day, as well as monitoring what you eat. As long as you’re on the right insulin medication, you’ll be able to eat most foods, but eat sugary foods in moderation.
Type 1 diabetes: complications
It’s important to learn how to control your type 1 diabetes. If it is not controlled, it can lead to a number of serious and life-threatening complications…
• Cardiovascular disease
Having uncontrolled diabetes puts you at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and narrowing of the arteries, as well as stroke.
• Sight problems
Damage to the eyes is a common and very serious complications of diabetes. If uncontrolled, type 1 diabetes can cause the blood vessels of the retina to become damaged, which can lead to blindness. Ensure you have regular check-ups with an optician.
• Nerve damage
Nerve damage is another common complication of diabetes. Nerve damage can lead to loss of feeling in the limbs. Because of this, cuts and blisters on the feet and limbs can go unnoticed and, if untreated, may lead to amputations. It’s therefore important to regularly check your feet if you have nerve damage.
However, if type 1 diabetes is well controlled, these long-term complications can be avoided and a person can lead a long and healthy life. Each individual’s experience of type 1 diabetes is different, so it’s important to find a tailored treatment plan, to prolong life expectancy and improve quality of life.