Previously called juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in children, teenagers, and young adults. Diabetes type 1 is believed to be caused by an autoimmune reaction that destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. As a result, the pancreas is unable to make insulin or makes very little insulin. Without healthy amounts of insulin, the blood sugar can’t enter the cells and builds up in the bloodstream, causing the typical symptoms of diabetes and complications. Let’s review in this article the signs and symptoms of diabetes type 1.
Diabetes type 1. Signs and symptoms
It takes several months to years until 90% of the insulin-producing cells are destroyed by the autoimmune response, and diabetes develops. At this point, the symptoms occur over a short period of time and can be quite severe.
Both diabetes types 1 and 2 share similar symptoms: increased urination, increased thirst, and increased appetite, along with nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and blurry vision. Although the appetite is increased, many individuals lose weight and the hunger is not relieved by eating.
In individuals with diabetes type 1 the symptoms often begin suddenly and can be dramatic.
Some may develop a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), sometimes even before the diagnosis of diabetes is made. DKA occurs when the blood sugar levels are dangerously high. As bodily’s cells can’t get nutrients in cells, they break down fats and muscles for energy and ketones accumulate in the urine and blood. The symptoms of DKA start with excess thirst and urination, nausea, fatigue, and progress to deep rapid breathing, stupor, loss of consciousness, and even death if left untreated. A fruity odor of the breath is specific to DKA, being caused by excess ketones eliminated through breathing.
The “honeymoon” period
Some individuals experience a “honeymoon “period when symptoms are in remission. This phase is usually seen right after the diagnosis and starting the therapy with insulin. In addition, some pancreatic cells still produce insulin for a limited period of time. The blood glucose levels are not so high, and may even get below normal. As diabetes progresses, the symptoms eventually return. The honeymoon period can last from a few weeks to months and even years.
There is a lot of research related to the honeymoon period, as scientists are looking to extend this symptom-free period for longer periods of time. This way the destruction of the insulin-producing cells can be prevented, or at least slowed down. Therapies that show potential to extend the honeymoon period include stem cell transplants and monoclonal antibodies. Regular exercise may also help extend the duration of the honeymoon period.
Diabetes type 1. Symptoms in infants and children
Infants and young children can’t tell if something bothers them. But parents notice they urinate frequently, drink more fluids, lose weight, get tired easily, and look ill. These are the typical signs of type 1 diabetes in children.
If the child who is already potty trained starts to wet the bed again and has accidents, a doctor may need to evaluate if this problem is not due to diabetes. DKA can also occur in children, with similar symptoms- increased urination and thirst, confusion, lethargy, and can be life-threatening if left untreated.
Diabetes type 1. Special information for adults
While diabetes type 1 is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, it may develop at any age. When the blood tests show elevated glucose levels, adults are told they have type 2 diabetes, as this form is more common in adults (more than 90% of cases of diabetes in adults are type 2 diabetes). They start oral treatment with oral diabetes medication like metformin, yet they would not get any improvement in symptoms and the blood sugar levels may remain high.
Not responding well to oral diabetes drugs could be a clue that it may be diabetes type 1 instead of type 2. An endocrinologist can differentiate between these two forms of diabetes. Antibody tests, C peptide tests, and other investigations can confirm the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.
In the case of diabetes type 2, the pancreas is able to produce insulin, but this hormone is not effective at getting the glucose in the cells, building up in the bloodstream instead.
Another disease that should be ruled out is anemia. Anemia causes similar symptoms like fatigue, low energy, dizziness, and increased respiratory rate. In fact, there is a link between these two conditions, and high blood sugar levels can lead to anemia. However, the proper diagnosis is needed, and each condition has to be treated accordingly.
Diabetes type 1 is a chronic, lifelong condition that requires treatment and regular visits to the family doctor and specialists. The goal is to keep blood glucose levels well controlled with insulin and a healthy lifestyle to prevent complications like kidney diseases, eye complications, hypertension, heart diseases, strokes, and nerve complications. Foot care is important to avoid complications that may require amputation. Other conditions associated with diabetes type 1 like celiac disease and certain mental health conditions should also be investigated and treated.