Type 1 diabetes is a disease that affects how your body makes insulin and uses glucose (sugar). Normally, when the blood sugar level increases, the pancreas makes more insulin. Insulin helps move sugar out of the blood so it can be used for energy. Type 1 diabetes develops because the immune system destroys cells in the pancreas that make insulin. The pancreas cannot make enough insulin, so the blood sugar level continues to rise. A family history of type 1 diabetes may increase your risk for diabetes. Type 1 diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be managed.
What are the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes?
- More thirst than usual
- Frequent urination
- Hunger most of the time
- Weight loss without trying
- Blurred vision
What tests will I need to help manage my diabetes?
Your care team provider may do any of the following to see if your diabetes is well controlled:
- A random glucose test may be done any time of day, no matter how long ago you ate.
- A fasting plasma glucose test may be done to check your blood sugar level after you have not eaten for 8 hours.
- A 2-hour plasma glucose test starts with a blood sugar level check after you have not eaten for 8 hours. You are then given a glucose drink. Your blood sugar level is checked after 2 hours.
- An A1c test shows the average amount of sugar in your blood over the past 2 to 3 months.
How is type 1 diabetes treated?
- Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin. Insulin may be injected multiple times in a day, or given through an insulin pump. You and your care team provider will discuss which method is best for you.
- Your diabetes care team may include physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. It may also include nurses, dietitians, exercise specialists, pharmacists, dentists, and podiatrists. Family members, or others who are close to you, may also be part of the team. You and your team will make goals and plans to manage diabetes and other health problems. The plans and goals will be specific to your needs.
What is diabetes education?
Diabetes education will start right away if your diagnosis is new. Diabetes education may also happen later to refresh your memory. Members of your diabetes care team teach you the following:
- How to check your blood sugar level: You will learn what your blood sugar level should be. You will be given information on when to check your blood sugar level. You will learn what to do if your level is too high or too low. Write down the times of your checks and your levels. Take them to all follow-up appointments.
- About insulin: You and your family members will be taught how to draw up and give insulin. You will learn how much insulin you need and what times to inject insulin. You will be taught when to not give insulin. You will also be taught how to match the right amount of insulin with blood sugar levels, amount of activity, and amount of carbohydrates. How to dispose of needles and syringes will also be taught.
- About nutrition: A dietitian will help you make a meal plan to keep your blood sugar level steady. You will learn how food affects your blood sugar levels. You will also learn to keep track of sugar and starchy foods (carbohydrates). The dietitian will tell you not to skip meals. Your blood sugar level may drop too low if you have taken insulin and do not eat.
- Exercise and diabetes: You will learn why physical activity is important. You and your provider will make a plan for your activity. Your provider will tell you what a healthy weight will be for you. He or she will help you make a plan to get to that weight and stay there.
What can I do to help manage type 1 diabetes?
- Know the risks if you choose to drink alcohol. Alcohol can cause your blood sugar levels to be low if you use insulin. Alcohol can cause high blood sugar levels and weight gain if you drink too much. Women 21 years or older and men 65 years or older should limit alcohol to 1 drink a day. Men aged 21 to 64 years should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
- Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage and make it more difficult to manage your diabetes. Ask your provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine.
- Wear medical alert identification. Wear medical alert jewelry or carry a card that says you have diabetes. Ask your provider where to get these items.
- Ask about vaccines. You have a higher risk for serious illness if you get the flu, pneumonia, COVID-19, or hepatitis. Ask your provider if you should get a flu, pneumonia, or hepatitis B vaccine, and when to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
What can happen if I do not manage my diabetes?
Uncontrolled diabetes can damage your nerves, veins, and arteries. Long-term high blood sugar levels can damage your eyes and kidneys. Damage to arteries increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. Nerve damage may also lead to other heart, stomach, and nerve problems. Diabetes is life-threatening if it is not controlled. Control your blood glucose levels to reduce your risk for health problems.
Have someone call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- You cannot be woken.
When should I call my diabetes care team immediately?
- Your blood sugar level is above 240 mg/dL and does not come down with treatment.
- You have signs of high blood sugar levels, such as blurred or double vision.
- You have signs of high ketone levels, such as breath has a fruity, sweet smell, or your breathing is shallow.
- You have symptoms of a low blood sugar level, such as trouble thinking, sweating, or a pounding heartbeat.
- Your blood sugar level is lower than normal and it does not improve with treatment.
When should I call my diabetes care team?
- Your blood sugar levels are higher than your target goals.
- You often have lower blood sugar levels than your target goals.
- Your skin is red, dry, warm, or swollen.
- You have a wound that does not heal.
- You have trouble coping with your illness, or you feel anxious or depressed.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.