Diabetes mellitus type 1 (patient information)

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Diabetes mellitus type 1


What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?

When to seek urgent medical care?


Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Diabetes mellitus type 1?

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications


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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-In-Chief: Jinhui Wu, M.D.; Assistant Editor-In-Chief: Laura Linnemeier


Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. More specifically, the beta cells of the pancreas no longer make insulin because the body’s immune system has attacked and destroyed them. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar (glucose), starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The causes of type 1 diabetes appear to be much different than those for type 2 diabetes, though the exact mechanisms for developing both diseases are unknown. The appearance of type 1 diabetes is suspected to follow exposure to an "environmental trigger," such as an unidentified virus, stimulating an immune attack against the beta cells of the pancreas (that produce insulin) in some genetically predisposed people.

What are the symptoms of Diabetes mellitus type 1?

People who think they might have diabetes must visit a physician for diagnosis. They might have some or none of the following symptoms:

Diseases with similar symptoms

What causes Diabetes mellitus type 1?

There are several forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes used to be called juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes. Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but it is most often diagnosed in children, adolescents, or young adults.

Insulin is a hormone produced by special cells, called beta cells, in the pancreas, an organ located in the area behind your stomach. Insulin is needed to move blood sugar (glucose) into cells, where it is stored and later used for energy. In type 1 diabetes, these cells produce little or no insulin.

Without enough insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of going into the cells. The body is unable to use this glucose for energy. This leads to the symptoms of type 1 diabetes.

Within 5 - 10 years, the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas are completely destroyed and the body can no longer produce insulin.

The exact cause is unknown, but most likely there is a viral or environmental trigger in genetically susceptible people that causes an immune reaction. The body's white blood cells mistakenly attack the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells.

Who is at highest risk?

Risk factors are less well defined for type 1 diabetes than for type 2 diabetes, but autoimmune, genetic, and environmental factors are involved in developing this type of diabetes.

When to seek urgent medical care?

Why is it important to take care of your diabetes? After many years, diabetes can lead to serious problems with your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and gums and teeth. But the most serious problem caused by diabetes is heart disease. When you have diabetes, you are more than twice as likely as people without diabetes to have heart disease or a stroke. If you have diabetes, your risk of a heart attack is the same as someone who has already had a heart attack. Both women and men with diabetes are at risk. You may not even have the typical signs of a heart attack. You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by controlling your blood pressure and blood fat levels. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about quitting. Anyone aged 45 years or older should consider getting tested for diabetes, especially if you are overweight. If you are younger than 45, but are overweight and have one or more additional risk factors, you should consider testing. In addition, if blood glucose levels get too high or low, urgent medical care may be needed to prevent losing consciousness or a diabetic coma.


There are two different tests your doctor can use to determine whether you have pre-diabetes or diabetes: the fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) or the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). The blood glucose levels measured after these tests determine whether you have a normal metabolism, or whether you have pre-diabetes or diabetes. If your blood glucose level is abnormal following the FPG, you have impaired fasting glucose (IFG); if your blood glucose level is abnormal following the OGTT, you have impaired glucose tolerance (IGT).

                                           FPG                          OGTT

Treatment options

The main goal of treatment is to get your blood glucose (sugar) levels under control in order to increase your chances of a complication-free life. People with diabetes should see a health care provider who will monitor their diabetes control and help them learn to manage their diabetes. In addition, many people with type 1 diabetes require oral medication, insulin, or both to control their blood glucose levels.

Healthy Living

Healthy eating, physical activity, and blood glucose testing are the basic therapies for type 1 diabetes. People with diabetes must take responsibility for their day-to-day care, and keep blood glucose levels from going too low or too high. Blood glucose monitoring is the main tool you have to check your diabetes control. This check tells you your blood glucose level at any one time. Keeping a log of your results is vital. When you bring this record to your health care provider, you have a good picture of your body's response to your diabetes care plan. Blood glucose checks let you see what works and what doesn't. This allows you and your doctor, dietitian, or nurse educator to make needed changes.

How do blood checks work? You stick your finger with a special needle, called a lancet, to get a drop of blood. With some meters, you can also use your forearm, thigh or fleshy part of your hand. There are spring-loaded lancing devices that make sticking yourself less painful. Before using the lancing device, wash your hands or site you chose with soap and water. If you use your fingertip, stick the side of your fingertip by your fingernail to avoid having sore spots on the frequently used part of your finger. Blood glucose meters are small computerized machines that "read" your blood glucose. In all types of meters, your blood glucose level shows up as a number on a screen (like that on your pocket calculator). Be sure your doctor or nurse educator shows you the correct way to use your meter. With all the advances in blood glucose meters, use of a meter is better than visual checking. In addition, you may need to check your urine for ketones once in a while. Ketones in the urine is a sign that your body is using fat for energy instead of using glucose because not enough insulin is available to use glucose for energy. Ketones in the urine is more common in type 1 diabetes.


Inside the pancreas, beta cells make the hormone insulin. With each meal, beta cells release insulin to help the body use or store the blood glucose it gets from food. People with type 1 diabetes do not make enough insulin. Some people with type 1 diabetes need diabetes pills or insulin shots to help their bodies use glucose for energy. Insulin cannot be taken as a pill. The insulin would be broken down during digestion just like the protein in food. Insulin must be injected into the fat under your skin for it to get into your blood. There are many different insulins for many different situations and lifestyles and there are more than 20 types of insulin sold in the United States. These insulins differ in how they are made, how they work in the body, and price.


In addition, people with diabetes may see endocrinologists, who may specialize in diabetes care; ophthalmologists for eye examinations; podiatrists for routine foot care; and dietitians and diabetes educators who teach the skills needed for daily diabetes management. Adults with diabetes are at high risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). In fact, at least 65 percent of those with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. Managing diabetes is more than keeping blood glucose levels under control—it is also important to manage blood pressure and cholesterol levels through healthy eating, physical activity, and the use of medications, if needed. By doing so, those with diabetes can lower their risk. Aspirin therapy, if recommended by a person’s health care team, and smoking cessation can also help lower risk.

Medications to avoid

Patients diagnosed with type I diabetes mellitus should avoid using the following medications:

  • Glipizide
  • Glyburide
  • Repaglinide
    If you have been diagnosed with type I diabetes mellitus, consult your physician before starting or stopping any of these medications.

Where to find medical care for Diabetes mellitus type 1?

Directions to hospitals treating Diabetes mellitus type 1

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Hypoglycemia, Hyperglycemia, and a High Risk for Diabetic Comas

Hypoglycemia, low blood glucose (sugar), sometimes called an insulin reaction, can happen even during those times when you're doing all you can to manage your diabetes. So, although many times you can't prevent it from happening, hypoglycemia can be treated before it gets worse. The symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Shakiness
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Hunger
  • Headache
  • Pale skin color
  • Sudden moodiness or behavior changes, such as crying for no apparent reason
  • Clumsy or jerky movements
  • Seizure
  • Difficulty paying attention, or confusion
  • Tingling sensations around the mouth

The quickest way to raise your blood glucose and treat hypoglycemia is with some form of sugar, such as 3 glucose tablets (you can buy these at the drug store), 1/2 cup of fruit juice, or 5-6 pieces of hard candy. Ask your health care professional or dietitian to list foods that you can use to treat low blood glucose. Good diabetes control is the best way we know to prevent hypoglycemia.

Hyperglycemia is the technical term for high blood glucose (sugar). High blood glucose happens when the body has too little, or not enough, insulin or when the body can't use insulin properly. If you have type 1 diabetes, your body does not make enough insulin. It could be that you ate more than planned or exercised less than planned. The stress of an illness, such as a cold or flu, could also be the cause. Other stresses, such as family conflicts or school or dating problems, could also cause hyperglycemia. The signs and symptoms include: high blood glucose, high levels of sugar in the urine, frequent urination, and increased thirst. It's important to treat hyperglycemia as soon as you detect it. If you fail to treat hyperglycemia, a condition called ketoacidosis (diabetic coma) could occur. Ketoacidosis develops when your body doesn't have enough insulin. Often, you can lower your blood glucose level by exercising. Cutting down on the amount of food you eat might also help. Your best bet to prevent hyperglycemia is to practice good diabetes management. Ketoacidosis is life-threatening and needs immediate treatment. It can occur when a case of hyperglycemia gets out of control. Symptoms include:

Heart Disease and Stroke

People with diabetes have extra reason to be mindful of heart and blood vessel disease. Diabetes carries an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and complications related to poor circulation. 2 out of 3 people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. Diabetes management is more than control of blood glucose. People with diabetes must also manage blood pressure and cholesterol and talk to their health provider to learn about other ways to reduce their chance for heart attacks and stroke. Again, lifestyle changes, such as choosing foods wisely and being physically active, as well as taking medication can help. Many people find that changing what they eat can make a big difference in their blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

Kidney Disease

Diabetes can damage the kidneys, which not only can cause them to fail, but can also make them lose their ability to filter out waste products. Diabetes can damage the filtering ability of kidneys. High levels of blood sugar make the kidneys filter too much blood. All this extra work is hard on the filters. After many years, they start to leak. Useful protein is lost in the urine. Having small amounts of protein in the urine is called microalbuminuria. When kidney disease is diagnosed early, (during microalbuminuria), several treatments may keep kidney disease from getting worse. Having larger amounts is called macroalbuminuria. When kidney disease is caught later (during macroalbuminuria), end-stage renal disease, or ESRD, usually follows.In time, the stress of overwork causes the kidneys to lose their filtering ability. Waste products then start to build up in the blood. Finally, the kidneys fail. This failure, ESRD, is very serious. A person with ESRD needs to have a kidney transplant or to have the blood filtered by machine (dialysis). Diabetic kidney disease can be prevented by keeping blood sugar in your target range.

Eye Complications

People with diabetes are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma than people without diabetes. The longer someone has had diabetes, the more common glaucoma is. Risk also increases with age. Glaucoma occurs when pressure builds up in the eye, and vision is gradually lost because the retina and nerve are damaged. Many people without diabetes get cataracts, but people with diabetes are 60% more likely to develop this eye condition. People with diabetes also tend to get cataracts at a younger age and have them progress faster. With cataracts, the eye's clear lens clouds, blocking light. Diabetic retinopathy is a general term for all disorders of the retina caused by diabetes. In nonproliferative retinopathy, capillaries in the back of the eye balloon and form pouches. Nonproliferative retinopathy can move through three stages (mild, moderate, and severe), as more and more blood vessels become blocked. In some people, retinopathy progresses after several years to a more serious form called proliferative retinopathy which can lead to blindness caused by retinal detachment. People who keep their blood sugar levels closer to normal are less likely to have retinopathy or to have milder forms.

Diabetic Neuropathy and Nerve Damage

One of the most common complications of diabetes is diabetic neuropathy. Neuropathy means damage to the nerves that run throughout the body, connecting the spinal cord to muscles, skin, blood vessels, and other organs. There are two common types of nerve damage. The first is sensorimotor neuropathy, also known as peripheral neuropathy. This can cause tingling, pain, numbness, or weakness in your feet and hands. The second is called autonomic neuropathy. This type can lead to:

People with diabetes can also have what is called focal neuropathy. In this kind of nerve damage, a nerve or a group of nerves is affected, causing sudden weakness or pain. It can lead to double vision, a paralysis on one side of the face called Bell's palsy, or pain in the front of the thigh or other parts of the body. People with diabetes also are at risk for compressed nerves. Something in the body presses against a nerve preventing it from sending a signal. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common cause of numbness and tingling in the fingers and can lead to muscle pain and weakness as well. Keeping your blood glucose levels in the target range can prevent or delay further damage and may lessen your symptoms.

Foot Complications

Although it can hurt, diabetic nerve damage can also lessen your ability to feel pain, heat, and cold. Loss of feeling often means you may not feel a foot injury. You might not notice a foot injury until the skin breaks down and becomes infected. Nerve damage can also lead to changes in the shape of your feet and toes. Ulcers occur most often on the ball of the foot or on the bottom of the big toe. Neglecting ulcers can result in infections, which in turn can lead to loss of a limb. Poor circulation (blood flow) can make your foot less able to fight infection and to heal. Diabetes causes blood vessels of the foot and leg to narrow and harden. You can control some of the things that cause poor blood flow. Don't smoke - smoking makes arteries harden faster. People with diabetes are far more likely to have a foot or leg amputated than other people. The problem? Many people with diabetes have artery disease, which reduces blood flow to the feet. Also, many people with diabetes have nerve disease, which reduces sensation. Together, these problems make it easy to get ulcers and infections that may lead to amputation. One of the biggest threats to your feet is smoking. Smoking affects small blood vessels. It can cause decreased blood flow to the feet and make wounds heal slowly. A lot of people with diabetes who need amputations are smokers.


Gastroparesis is a disorder affecting people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, where the stomach takes too long to empty its contents. It happens when nerves to the stomach are damaged or stop working. The vagus nerve controls the movement of food through the digestive tract. If the vagus nerve is damaged, the muscles of the stomach and intestines do not work normally, and the movement of food is slowed or stopped. Gastroparesis can make diabetes worse by making it more difficult to manage blood glucose. When food that has been delayed in the stomach finally enters the small intestine and is absorbed, blood glucose levels rise. If food stays too long in the stomach, it can cause problems like bacterial overgrowth because the food has fermented. Also, the food can harden into solid masses called bezoars that may cause nausea, vomiting, and obstruction in the stomach. Bezoars can be dangerous if they block the passage of food into the small intestine.

Possible complications

After many years, diabetes can lead to serious problems with your eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart, blood vessels, and other areas in your body.

If you have diabetes, your risk of a heart attack is the same as someone who has already had a heart attack. Both women and men with diabetes are at risk. You may not even have the typical signs of a heart attack.

In general, complications include:

  • Cataracts
  • Damage to the blood vessels that supply the legs and feet (peripheral vascular disease)
  • Foot sores or ulcers, which can result in amputation
  • Glaucoma
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Kidney disease and kidney failure (diabetic nephropathy)
  • Macular edema
  • Nerve damage, which causes pain and numbness in the feet, as well as a number of other problems with the stomach and intestines, heart, and other body organs (diabetic neuropathy)
  • Stroke
  • Worsening of eyesight or blindness due to diabetic retinopathy (eye disease)

Other complications include:

  • Erection problems
  • Infections of the skin, female genital tract, and urinary tract


Researchers are making progress in identifying the exact genetics and "triggers" that predispose some individuals to develop type 1 diabetes, but prevention remains elusive.


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