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Type 1 Diabetes: Living With the Disease


Topic Overview

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This topic provides information for teens and their parents and for adults who have type 1 diabetes. Before reading this topic, you may want to read Type 1 Diabetes: Recently Diagnosed.

If this topic does not answer your questions, see:

What is type 1 diabetes, and what is it like to live with the disease?

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease that develops when the pancreas stops making insulin. Your body needs insulin to let sugar (glucose) move from the blood into the body's cells, where it can be used for energy or stored for later use.

Everyone experiences type 1 diabetes differently. But the treatment is the same. You need to take insulin, eat a balanced diet that spreads carbohydrate throughout the day, and exercise. Part of your daily routine also includes checking your blood sugar levels regularly, as advised by your doctor.

The goal is to keep your blood sugar in a target range. It is the best way to reduce your chance of having more problems from diabetes. These are called complications.

Taking care of your diabetes takes time and energy every day. It is a big part of your life. But it will help you feel better and may prevent, or at least delay, complications. If your teen has diabetes, tight control of blood sugar levels may help prevent complications from developing in early adulthood.

What symptoms do you need to watch for?

It's important to watch for signs of low and high blood sugar:

  • Early symptoms of low blood sugar are sweating, weakness, shakiness, and hunger. But your symptoms may vary. After you have had diabetes for a long time, you may not notice these symptoms anymore. Low blood sugar happens quickly. You can get low blood sugar within 10 to 15 minutes after you exercise or take insulin without eating enough.
  • Early symptoms of high blood sugar are increased thirst, increased urination, increased hunger, and blurred vision. High blood sugar usually develops slowly over a few days or weeks.

Both low and high blood sugar can cause problems and need to be treated. Check your blood sugar often during the day.

What are the complications of diabetes and their symptoms?

Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves throughout your body. This can cause problems with your eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys. Complications can lead to blindness, kidney failure, amputation, and death. High blood sugar also makes you more likely to get serious illnesses or infection. It's hard to know if you will have complications. Some people are more likely to have problems than others. The longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk of complications. You are not likely to have signs of complications until you have had diabetes for about 5 years.

Watch for early symptoms of problems. Tingling and numbness in your feet may be a sign of early nerve damage. Eye problems and kidney damage do not have early symptoms. Make sure you have regular screening tests for both eye and kidney problems.

Is it possible to prevent complications?

You may be able to prevent, or at least delay, problems from diabetes by keeping your blood sugar level within a target range. Treatment of high blood pressure and high cholesterol can also help. Not smoking can also lower your risk of complications.

See your doctor every 3 to 6 months. During these visits, your doctor will review your treatment and do tests and exams to see if your blood sugar is staying within your target range and if you have developed any complications.

Some exams and tests need to be done at every visit. Others are done once a year, such as eye exams and tests for protein in your urine. Other tests may be done only if there is a problem.

How will your treatment change over time?

Your insulin dose, possibly the types of insulin, and the way you give it may change over time to fit your changing needs. This is especially true for teens because they are still growing.

The goal of treatment is to always keep your blood sugar level as close to your target range as you can. To meet this goal, take care of yourself, get regular checkups, and keep learning about how to care for yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning more about type 1 diabetes:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with type 1 diabetes:

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