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Learning About Type 1 Diabetes

Insulin pen

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a disease that starts when the pancreas stops making enough of a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps the body use sugar from food as energy or store it for later use. If there isn't any insulin, too much sugar stays in the blood. Over time, high blood sugar can harm many parts of the body. These include the eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys.

Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but it usually starts in children or young adults. It's a lifelong disease. But with treatment and a healthy lifestyle, people can live a long and healthy life.

What happens when you have type 1 diabetes?

Over time, high blood sugar can lead to serious problems. It can:

  • Harm your eyes, nerves, and kidneys.
  • Damage your blood vessels, leading to heart disease and stroke.
  • Reduce blood flow and cause nerve damage to parts of your body, especially your feet. This can cause slow healing and pain when you walk.

That's why it's important to keep your blood sugar within a target range.

A more sudden problem can happen when the blood sugar level gets so high that a serious chemical imbalance develops in the blood. This condition can be life-threatening and needs quick treatment.

When people hear the word "diabetes," they often think of problems like these. But daily care and treatment can help prevent or delay these problems. The goal is to keep your blood sugar in a target range. It's the best way to reduce your chance of having more problems from diabetes.

What are the symptoms?

You have most symptoms of type 1 diabetes when your blood sugar is either too high or too low.

Common symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • Thirst.
  • Needing to urinate often.
  • Weight loss.
  • Blurry vision.

Common symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Sweating.
  • Shakiness.
  • Weakness.
  • Hunger.
  • Confusion.

If you wait too long to get medical care when your blood sugar goes too high, you may develop diabetic ketoacidosis. Symptoms include:

  • Flushed, hot, dry skin.
  • A strong, fruity breath odour.
  • Feeling restless or drowsy, or having trouble waking up.
  • Lack of interest in normal activities.
  • Rapid, deep breathing.
  • Loss of appetite, belly pain, and vomiting.
  • Confusion.

How is type 1 diabetes treated?

Treatment for type 1 diabetes focuses on keeping blood sugar levels within a target range. This will help prevent problems from diabetes such as eye, kidney, heart, and nerve disease.

To manage type 1 diabetes, a person will:

  • Take insulin every day. This may be done through an insulin pump or a syringe (needle).
  • Check blood sugar levels often.
  • Make healthy food choices.
  • Get regular physical activity. Exercise helps the body to use insulin in a more efficient way.
  • Get routine screening tests and exams. These are done to watch for signs of problems.
  • Avoid smoking.

Blood sugar levels are easier to manage when mealtimes, amount of food, and exercise are similar every day.

Medicine to treat other health problems, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, may be needed. This may help prevent problems from diabetes.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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