What is Diabetes?

For those who have been recently diagnosed and/or want to know about what diabetes is, here are the basics of Type 1 diabetes.

Basic Information/Cause of T1D

Type 1 Diabetes, also known as T1D or juvenile diabetes, is a disease caused by an autoimmune reaction which leads to the immune system's T-cells attacking the insulin producing β (beta) cells in the pancreas. Insulin is vital for maintaining blood glucose, as it helps blood sugar enter the body's cells to be used as energy. Without insulin, blood sugar does not get into cells and keeps building up in the bloodstream, causing hyperglycemia or high blood sugar. Hyperglycemia damages vital organs in the body such as the brain, heart, kidneys, and eyes.

 

Symptoms

Symptoms of T1D may take months or years to develop, but when symptoms start to show, it could be severe. If you have any of these symptoms, it is recommended by the CDC to see a doctor to get your blood sugar checked:

  • Feeling more thirsty than usual

  • Peeing frequently, especially during the night

  • Feeling very hungry

  • Have blurry vision

  • Losing weight without trying

  • Feeling very tired/weak

  • Having sudden mood changes, especially irritation

  • Having wounds that heal slowly

If you think you have Diabetes, don't wait. Get yourself checked immediately – untreated Diabetes could lead to severe - or even fatal - consequences.

​Risk Factors​

There are no known risk factors for Type 1 Diabetes apart from family history.

Hypoglycemia

Contrary to hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia is when your body has low blood sugar. This can happen when too much insulin is manually injected into one's body, not eating enough carbs, too much physical activity, etc. Hypoglycemia symptoms include:

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Anxiety

  • Irritation

  • Shaking

  • Sweating

  • Hunger

A blood sugar level of 70 mg/dl or below is considered hypoglycemia, and if you have diabetes and are feeling any of the listed symptoms, check your blood sugar and, if needed, treat it by consuming sugary foods/drinks such as juice, candy, or honey. Additionally, if you are using an insulin pump, you may have to suspend insulin delivery to treat hypoglycemia.

A blood sugar level below 54 mg/dl is considered severe low blood sugar, which has severe symptoms such as:​

  • Having difficulty walking

  • Blurry vision

  • Confusion or acting strange

  • Having seizures

  • Fainting

Blood sugar this low can cause extreme weakness, so someone else may need to assist you if you have severe hypoglycemia.​

​Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic Ketoacidosis, also known as DKA, is a life-threatening diabetic complication that occurs when a lack of insulin prevents blood sugar to enter the cells to be used as energy. As a result, the liver breaks down fat for fuel. This process produces an acid called ketones, and can build up to dangerous levels in the body when they are produced too fast. When the body starts producing ketones, you may feel symptoms such as:

  • Frequent urination

  • Excessive thirst

However, if untreated, DKA symptoms become more severe, which include:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Body pains and stiffness

  • Headaches

  • Stomach pains

  • Flushed face

If your blood glucose is above 240 mg/dl for a long period of time, use a ketone test kit, which can be found in a pharmacy, to make sure you don't have DKA. The main method for treating DKA is to bring your blood glucose down to a good target range - which is 70 to 180 mg/dl according the American Diabetes Association. Other treatments include drinking water and replacing electrolytes that are lost during the process of DKA.​

​T1D Testing

A blood test is the best way to test for diabetes, but it isn't the only way. Other tests include a ketone check, where urine is used to check for ketones. A blood sample could be tested for autoantibodies, which indicate if your body is attacking its pancreas.

​Diabetes Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes yet, but it can be managed with the help of doctors and diabetes educators. If you have Type 1 Diabetes, you need to make sure to continuously check your blood glucose throughout the day and make sure to enter insulin dosage according to your diet and physical activities.

 

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Mayo Clinic, American Diabetes Association