Diabetes Type 1: What Everyone Needs to Know

Diabetes is a difficult disease for a child and parent. Physical, emotional, and psychological tolls exist on a daily basis for those living with diabetes. The rate of newly diagnosed patients has increased exponentially over the years, inexplicably by doctors, yet awareness and education has not. It is crucial that in order to work towards a cure for type 1 diabetes, an awareness of the disease, symptoms, treatment, management, complications, and prevention must first be established.

Diabetes exists in two forms-type 1 and type 2. Approximately 95% of people suffering from diabetes have type 2, while only 5% of Americans suffer from type 1. Though type 2, sometimes referred to as adult on-set diabetes, is more prevalent, type 1, otherwise known as “juvenile” diabetes, is often considered the more serious of the two. Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in children; however, it is possible to be diagnosed in adulthood. When the body ingests food, the stomach begins to break down its contents into protein, fat, and carbohydrates. It is carbohydrates that further break down into glucose, which the body uses for energy. In a normal, healthy body, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which helps the cells absorb and use the glucose. The insulin acts as a key to the cell, so that when it is released, it opens the cell allowing glucose to be absorbed. However, when insulin is absent, the cell cannot open and absorb the glucose from the bloodstream. A type 1 diabetic’s pancreas does not function properly-it releases little to none of the hormone, insulin, as it should. Therefore, when glucose enters the bloodstream, it is forced to remain there because insulin is not present to open the cell for absorption. It is key to understand that type 1 diabetes is “considered to be an auto-immune disease because the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are attacked and ‘erroneously’ destroyed by the immune system early on in the disease process, resulting in little to no insulin production in the pancreas”. Thus, a type 1 diabetic requires insulin therapy to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

Diabetes is an auto-immune disease that scientists believe has to do with genes. Genes are “like instructions for how the body should look and work…but just getting the genes for diabetes isn’t usually enough. In most cases something else has to happen-like getting a virus infection-for a person to get Type 1 Diabetes”. In other words, diabetes is not considered to be an infectious disease, and it is not like a cold that can be caught from being in contact with someone who suffers from the disease. Unfortunately, doctors still cannot predict who will develop the disease and who will not.

There are many classic symptoms associated with type 1 diabetes that can develop either suddenly or gradually. The most common symptom is frequent urination, followed by increased thirst, weight loss, fatigue, and increased appetite. If anyone experiences these symptoms, especially if there is a family history of diabetes, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Failure to treat these symptoms could result in other health problems such as “stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, breathing problems, and even loss of consciousness. Doctors call this diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA”.

Currently, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes; however, there are some treatments being explored. The three main treatments being explored are Pancreas transplants, Islet cell Glucofort transplantation, and Stem cell transplants. Pancreas transplants are quite rare because of the risks associated with them. Upon transplantation, one would need a “lifetime of potent immune-suppressing drugs to prevent organ rejection”. In addition to these immune-suppressing drugs, a “high risk of infection and organ injury” exists among those receiving a transplant. Islet cell transplantation “provides new insulin-producing cells from a donor pancreas”. Similar to a pancreas transplant, islet cell transplantation requires the use of immune-suppressing drugs, which carry the same risks. The risk of the immune system destroying the transplanted cells is also a risk. Finally, stem cell transplant is another treatment being explored. Stem cell transplantation involves “shutting down the immune system and then building it up again-[which] can be risky”. All three of these treatments are promising, yet scientists are still working toward finding a more successful and permanent treatment for diabetes.

While there is no cure for diabetes, it is important to follow a strict diabetes management plan in order to live a healthy life. Regular blood glucose monitoring and insulin therapy are two important forms of proper diabetes management. Fortunately, technology advancement over time has allowed blood glucose monitoring to very simple. Upon diagnosis, patients receive a blood glucose meter to carry with them at all times for blood glucose testing. This meter allows a diabetic to monitor their blood glucose, or “blood sugar” level, at liberty in order to maintain better diabetes control. A meter only requires a small drop of blood, and readings are available in approximately five seconds. It is important to keep blood sugar levels between 80 and 120 as much as possible. If steady glucose levels are not maintained or diabetes management is neglected over time, serious complications can result such as “seizures, blindness, kidney failure, heart attack, amputations and strokes.

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