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Diabetes Information

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot produce an adequate supply of insulin.  The hormone insulin helps cells use glucose (derived from food intake and the liver) for energy.  Glucose that can't be absorbed properly builds up in the blood stream resulting in high blood sugar.  Excessive blood glucose levels can severely harm every system in the body.

Young People's Disease

Because type 1 diabetes normally occurs in children and young adults, it is sometimes called juvenile diabetes.   However, type 1 diabetes can strike at any time in life.  The disease is evenly distributed among the sexes and is more common among Caucasians than other racial groups.   In the U.S., type 1 diabetes accounts for 5-10% of all diabetic cases diagnosed.

Type 1 diabetes is believed to be caused by a genetic predisposition to the disease.  This genetic predisposition lies dormant until triggered by a virus, toxin, or drug which attacks the immune system and beta cells of the pancreas. 

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include:

   a parent or sibling with the disease

   auto-immune disorder such as thyroid disease

   history of childhood viruses such as rubella, adenovirus, Epstein-Barr.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Type 1 diabetes develops rapidly and its symptoms can be quite dramatic.  Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include the following:

   excessive hunger or thirst

   frequent urination

   slow healing wounds

   dry skin

   rapid breathing

   blurred vision

   mood swings

   unexplained weight loss

   headaches

   tingling in extremities

   high blood pressure.

These symptoms, however, could also be indications of other illnesses.  To confirm a type 1 diabetes diagnosis, the doctor will perform a blood test.  Usually, a plasma glucose test is administered.  The patient must fast for 8 hours after which blood is drawn for the test.  Other tests for type 1 diabetes include the random plasma glucose test in which blood can be taken any time of the day, and, the oral glucose tolerance test at which blood is drawn at three hour intervals after the patient drinks 75 grams of glucose.

Early detection of type 1 diabetes is critical to preventing diabetes complications and causing serious damage to the body.  Heart disease, nerve damage, kidney failure, and blindness could result if the disease is left untreated.

Treating the Disease

The goal of type 1 diabetes treatment is to maintain blood glucose levels to as close to normal as possible.  To do this, patients replace the insulin their pancreas cannot produce by injecting themselves with insulin via a insulin injection or an insulin pump.  Self-monitoring blood glucose kits allow patients to see how diet, exercise, and other factors affect their glucose levels.

In addition to insulin replacement, type 1 diabetics must make lifestyle changes that will keep their diabetes under control.  A healthy diet, regular exercise, and regular blood glucose monitoring are crucial to managing type 1 diabetes and reducing the risk of serious complications from the disease.

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