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Type 1 Diabetes

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Updated July 07, 2014

Type 1 Diabetes

In response to high levels of glucose in the blood, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas secrete the hormone insulin. Type I diabetes occurs when these cells are destroyed by the body's own immune system.

What It Is:

Type 1 diabetes is a completely different disease from Type 2 Diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Scientists believe that it may be a virus that triggers the immune system to attack the cells and permanently destroy them. The pancreas can no longer make the insulin necessary to transport sugar from the blood into the other cells of the body for energy. Sugar builds up in the blood and over time can damage internal organs and blood vessels.

Insulin and Blood Sugar:

What does this mean to the person who is diagnosed? Someone who has Type 1 diabetes must take insulin everyday to survive. It becomes a delicate balance of finding the right amount of insulin necessary to keep the blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. The person with diabetes has to check their blood sugar levels often and then inject themselves with the correct amount of insulin to counteract the amount of sugar. This mimics the action of the pancreas.

Warning Signs for Type 1:

This can be an overwhelming process for the newly diagnosed person, especially since Type 1 diabetes typically strikes children and young adults, although adults age 40 and older, can get Type 1. The onset of the disease happens quickly. As the insulin stops being produced and the blood sugar rises, this causes hyperglycemia. Several warning signs appear. Increased thirst, increased urination, fatigue, weight loss and blurred vision are a few of the most noticeable signs of Type 1 diabetes.

Testing Blood Sugar:

Frequently testing blood sugar levels helps to let you know how much insulin you will need to keep your levels as near to normal as possible. The usual times to test are: before meals, before bedtime and maybe one to two hours after meals or a big snack. Also test before you exercise because exercise will lower blood sugar also, and you don't want your blood sugar to drop too low either. This is called hypoglycemia.

When and What to Eat:

For diabetes, when you eat is as important as what you eat. Eating meals that are approximately the same size and combination of carbohydrates and fats at the same time everyday helps to keep blood sugar regular and predictable. The best diet is one that is low in fat, low in salt and low in added sugars. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables are preferable over simple carbohydrates like sugary soft drinks and and candy.

Living a Healthy Life:

Until the 1920's, when insulin was first discovered, people usually died from Type 1 diabetes. Today with all the advances of medicine that are available, a person diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes can live a very normal, long life. There are many adjustments that need to made and skills that need to be learned, but these can be incorporated into a daily routine, and can become just as automatic as brushing your teeth. Working with your doctors and a nutritionist will give you the tools you need.

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