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What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. For reasons we don’t yet fully understand, your immune system, which is meant to protect you from foreign bodies, such as viruses and bacteria, mistakenly attacks and destroys the beta cells in your pancreas that produce insulin.

You cannot prevent it by adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, or living a healthy lifestyle. There is currently no known cure. But JDRF is committed to funding research that will find the cure.

A body that isn’t affected by type 1 diabetes has hormones that will keep blood glucose within a healthy range (4 – 7 mmol/L). Insulin is a hormone that allows glucose to move from the bloodstream into cells, which can then be used for energy. Someone with type 1 diabetes will not have enough insulin or any insulin at all, meaning that blood glucose will fall or rise outside of the normal levels.  

When blood glucose becomes too high the body will do whatever it can to try and remove the excess glucose from the blood.

A person with type 1 diabetes may then experience the following:  

  • A need to go to the toilet more – a body with type 1 diabetes will try to get rid of the excess glucose through the urine.  
  • A need to drink more – if you’re going to the toilet more, you’ll become more thirsty.
  • Becoming tired quicker – type 1 diabetes stops cells getting the energy they need, leading to people affected by the condition becoming exhausted.
  • Weight loss – the body compensates for the lack of energy by breaking down fat stores.
  • A build-up of ketones – if the body continues to operate like this toxic ketones will build-up in the body. This causes the breath to smell ketotic (like pear drops). More seriously, they cause stomach pain and eventually a loss of consciousness and even death.

The common signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes are:

  • More frequent urination.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Tiredness.
  • Weight loss.
  • Ketones (expressed through ketotic-smelling breath).

While it can take years for damage to insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to eventually lead to type 1 diabetes, the onset of type 1 diabetes symptoms is rapid, happening over a matter of days and weeks rather than months. If you, or someone you know experiences the symptoms of type 1 diabetes you must seek medical treatment immediately.

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