Type 1 Diabetes FAQ
Quick answers to the most common questions
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is all about insulin—a lack of the hormone insulin. If you have type 1 diabetes, then your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to handle the glucose in your body. Glucose is a sugar that your body uses for instant energy, but in order for your body to use it properly, you have to have insulin.
What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes develops gradually, but the symptoms may seem to come on suddenly. It can take years for the body to deplete its insulin, but as soon as there’s no more insulin in the body, blood glucose levels rise quickly. Symptoms can then rapidly develop, including:
- Extreme weakness and/or tiredness
- Extreme thirst—dehydration
- Increased urination
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Blurry vision
- Wounds that don’t heal well
- Irritability or quick mood changes
- Changes to (or loss of) menstruation
There are also signs of type 1 diabetes. Signs are different from symptoms in that they can be measured objectively; symptoms are experienced and reported by the patient. Signs of type 1 diabetes include:
- Weight loss—despite eating more
- Rapid heart rate
- Reduced blood pressure (falling below 90/60)
- Low body temperature (below 97º F)
What causes type 1 diabetes?
It isn’t entirely clear what triggers the development of type 1 diabetes. Researchers do know that genes play a role; there is an inherited susceptibility. However, something must set off the immune system, causing it to turn against itself and leading to the development of type 1 diabetes.
To get more details on this, please read our article on the causes of type 1 diabetes.
What are the risk factors for type 1 diabetes?
There are several risk factors that may make it more likely that you’ll develop type 1 diabetes—if you have the genetic marker that makes you susceptible to diabetes. That genetic marker is located on chromosome 6, and it’s an HLA (human leukocyte antigen) complex. Several HLA complexes have been connected to type 1 diabetes, and if you have one or more of those, you may develop type 1. (However, having the necessary HLA complex is not a guarantee that you will develop diabetes; in fact, less than 10% of people with the “right” complex(es) actually develop type 1.)
Other risk factors for type 1 diabetes include:
- Viral infections
- Family history
- Early diet (especially cow's milk)
- Other autoimmune conditions
We have an article on risk factors of type 1 diabetes, and you can read that to get more detailed information on these risk factors.
How is type 1 diabetes treated?
Type 1 diabetes is treated with a combination of insulin, diet, and exercise.
It’s absolutely necessary for people with type 1 diabetes to take insulin because their bodies don’t produce it. There are several types of insulin, and your diabetes treatment team will work with you to figure out the right dosages. Plus, they’ll walk you through all the details of insulin delivery (giving insulin to your body). For more details on insulin, please visit our Patients' Guide to Insulin.
Diet and exercise will help you control the effects of type 1 diabetes. Eating a healthy, carb-conscious diet will make it easier for you to control your blood glucose level, and researchers have shown that tight blood glucose control over the years significantly limits the development of long-term complications of diabetes. Read our article on a good diabetes diet for more information.
Similarly, staying physically fit and active has many benefits, including keeping your heart healthy, which can prevent the macrovascular complications associated with diabetes. Exercise also makes it easier to control your blood glucose level. You can read more about exercise and type 1 diabetes in our article that talks about good exercises and how to get started.