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Type 1 Diabetes: Recently Diagnosed


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This topic provides information about type 1 diabetes for adults and for parents of children who have been diagnosed with the disease in the past 6 weeks. If this topic doesn't answer your questions, one of the following topics may meet your needs.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes mellitus is a lifelong disease that develops when the pancreasClick here to see an illustration. can no longer produce insulin. Insulin lets sugar (glucose) enter your body's cells, where it is used for energy. Without insulin, sugar builds up in your blood. The level rises above what is safe for your body. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and nerves throughout your body and increase your risk of eye, heart, blood vessel, nerve, and kidney disease.

Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age. But it usually develops in children and young adults. In the past, type 1 diabetes was called juvenile diabetes and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM).

What causes type 1 diabetes?

Insulin is made by certain cells (beta cells) in the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes develops because the body's immune system destroys the beta cells and therefore the pancreas's ability to produce insulin.

Some people inherit the risk for type 1 diabetes. But even these people may not develop type 1 diabetes unless something else triggers it, such as being exposed to certain viral infections.

What are the symptoms of high blood sugar and low blood sugar?

The main symptoms of high blood sugar from diabetes are:

  • Increased thirst.
  • Increased urination.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Blurred vision.

These symptoms usually develop over a few days to weeks. Some people have these symptoms before they are diagnosed, but they do not realize the symptoms are caused by diabetes. They may believe the symptoms are caused by the flu or some other illness.

When insulin levels drop very low, blood sugar can rise very high and a life-threatening situation called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) can develop. DKA is an emergency. Symptoms include:

  • Flushed, hot, dry skin.
  • A strong, fruity breath odor.
  • Restlessness, drowsiness, or difficulty waking up. Young children may lack interest in their normal activities.
  • Rapid, deep breathing.
  • Loss of appetite, belly pain, and vomiting.
  • Confusion.

Severe diabetic ketoacidosis can cause difficulty breathing, brain swelling (cerebral edema), coma, or death. But by taking your insulin regularly and keeping your blood sugar levels in your target range, you can avoid DKA.

The main symptoms of low blood sugar from diabetes are:

  • Sweating (almost always present).
  • Nervousness, shakiness, and weakness.
  • Dizziness and headache.
  • Confusion and irritability.
  • Slurred speech.

Low blood sugar occurs when the sugar (glucose) level in your blood drops below what your body needs to function normally. Not eating enough food or skipping meals, taking too much medicine (insulin), exercising more than usual, or taking certain medicines that lower blood sugar can cause your blood sugar to drop rapidly.

If your blood sugar level drops very low (usually below 20 mg/dL), you may lose consciousness or have a seizure. Eating or drinking something that contains sugar usually can bring your blood sugar back up to a safe level. But if you have symptoms of severe low blood sugar, you need medical care immediately.

What tests do I need for diabetes?

You need to test your blood sugar 3 or more times a day to make sure it falls within the target range you and your doctor set. You use a home glucose monitor to do these tests.

At first, you will keep in close touch with your doctor while finding the right dose of insulin that best keeps your blood sugar levels within your target range. When your blood sugar levels are staying within this range, you will see your doctor about every 3 to 6 months. During these checkups, your doctor will look at your treatment to see how well it is controlling your diabetes. If your treatment isn't working very well, your doctor may have you try different things. You will also start having a A1c test to find out what your average blood sugar level was during the 2 to 3 months before your visit. This test checks your long-term blood sugar control.

You also need to have regular tests to check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, because high levels increase your risk of diabetes complications.

How is it treated?

You will take insulin injections daily or use an insulin pump. Treatment for type 1 diabetes focuses on keeping your blood sugar levels within your target range. This is called tight control. It is the best way to reduce your risk of diabetes complications. But some people—such as those whose blood sugar drops too low with tight control—may need to set a different target range with their doctor.

A target range for blood sugar is 70 mg/dL to 130 mg/dL before eating or less than 180 mg/dL 1 to 2 hours after eating. It also may be measured as an A1c of less than 7%. This is a test of your blood sugar control for the past 2 to 3 months.

You also need to eat a healthful diet that spreads carbohydrate throughout the day, check your blood sugar 3 or more times a day, and get regular exercise. Because you have diabetes, you are at higher-than-average risk of a heart attack and stroke. You may take medicine to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in the normal ranges. You also may take aspirin to lower your risk for having a heart attack.

Your treatment plan may change based on your blood sugar levels and other test results reviewed in your doctor's office.

If your child has type 1 diabetes, treatment involves the same actions but also allows for normal growth and development.

You may find that soon after you are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, your blood sugar levels return to normal. You are in what is called the "honeymoon period." The remaining insulin-producing cells in your pancreas are working harder to supply enough insulin for your body. You may take little or no insulin. But this does not mean that the disease is gone. After the remaining insulin-producing cells are destroyed, the honeymoon period ends, and you will need to take insulin for the rest of your life.

How will diabetes affect my life?

You can live a long, healthy life if you keep your blood sugar levels within a target range. This requires the right combination of food, physical activity, and insulin every day. If your young child has diabetes, you assume the responsibility for balancing these things. As your child grows, he or she will take over more responsibility for his or her care.

Many people are afraid of giving themselves shots every day. With practice, it will become routine. Figuring out how to mix diet, insulin, and exercise in your daily life takes time. Don't get discouraged. Seek out help from your doctors if some part of diabetes care gives you trouble.

As you adjust to having diabetes, you will learn how to monitor your blood sugar level at home, give yourself insulin injections, recognize high and low blood sugar symptoms, count carbohydrate in your diet, and take precautions when you are sick. Diabetes care will become an important part of your life, but it doesn't have to take over your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about type 1 diabetes:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with type 1 diabetes:

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