About Diabetes

Understanding Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Testing, coupled with education about diabetes symptoms and close follow-up, has been shown to enable earlier diagnosis and to prevent diabetes ketoacidosis.

Smiling young Latino male

What is type 1 diabetes?

When you have type 1 diabetes, your immune system mistakenly treats the beta cells in your pancreas that create insulin as foreign invaders and destroys them. When enough beta cells are destroyed, your pancreas can’t make insulin or makes so little of it that you need to take insulin to live. 

Insulin is a hormone that helps blood glucose (blood sugar) enter your body’s cells so that it can be used as energy. If you have diabetes, blood glucose can’t enter your cells so it builds up in your bloodstream. This causes high blood glucose (hyperglycemia). Over time, high blood glucose harms your body and can lead to diabetes-related complications if not treated.

Most of the time, type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in young people, but it can develop in anyone at any age. Scientists and researchers today aren’t sure how to prevent type 1 diabetes or what triggers it.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you can live a long, healthy life by having a strong support system and managing it with your diabetes care team. The treatment plan you develop with your diabetes care team will include insulin, physical activity, and an eating plan to reach your health goals.

Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms

If you or your child have the following symptoms of diabetes, let your health care provider know. Symptoms include:

  • Urinating often
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry—even though you are eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
  • Weight loss—even though you are eating more

It’s important to know when you first develop type 1 diabetes, you may not have any symptoms at all.

  • Children with Type 1 Diabetes

  • Adults with Type 1 Diabetes

  • Learning Your Risk for Type 1 Diabetes

  • Why Learning Your Risk Helps

young boy with cgm on arm at kitchen counter with mother eating salad

Children with type 1 diabetes will usually have the symptoms listed above. If your child is potty-trained without issues at night starts having accidents and wetting the bed again, diabetes might be the reason.

Even though it’s easy to diagnose a child with diabetes by checking their blood glucose at the doctor’s office or emergency room, the tricky part is recognizing the symptoms and knowing to take your child to get checked. If you’re a parent, it’s important to know that young children, including infants, can develop type 1 diabetes.

Sometimes children can be in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) when they are diagnosed with diabetes. When there is a lack of insulin in the body, high levels of an acid called ketones can build up. DKA is a medical emergency that usually requires hospitalization and immediate care with insulin and IV fluids.

Senior woman checking blood glucose with lancet

When an adult develops type 1 diabetes, they are often mistakenly told they have type 2 diabetes. This may be from lack of awareness that type 1 diabetes can start at any age and in people of every race, shape, weight, and size. People with type 1 diabetes who also have the classic risk factors for type 2 diabetes—such as overweight/obesity, not being physically active, having high blood pressure, or are over age 35—are often misdiagnosed. It can also be tricky because some adults with new-onset type 1 diabetes are not sick at first. Their health care provider may find an elevated blood glucose level at a routine visit and starts them on diet, exercise, and an oral medication.

Early detection and treatment of diabetes can decrease the risk of developing complications both at the time of diagnosis and in the future. By knowing and recognizing the symptoms above, you can learn if you have type 1 diabetes early and avoid complications, like diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)

African American mother and daughter talking to social worker

Did you know?

  • Type 1 diabetes doesn’t develop only in children
  • There have been recent advances in type 1 diabetes screening and treatment

If you have a family history of type 1 diabetes, your health care provider may suggest screening for type 1 diabetes. They will order a blood test to measure your islet autoantibodies. The test results can go one of two ways:

  1. Negative: Your health care provider will retest you in the future.
  2. Positive: Even if you get a positive result, this doesn’t mean you have type 1 diabetes. Your health care provider will refer you to counseling about the risk of developing diabetes, diabetes symptoms, and DKA prevention. Additional testing as needed may be done to determine the course of your treatment.  
Senior African American woman getting prescription written by African American woman physician

Even if you may not want to know if you, your children, or other family members are at risk for developing type 1 diabetes, there are benefits to knowing.

First, you can learn more about the early warning signs of type 1 diabetes so you and your health care team can detect diabetes early—before DKA or severe illness develops. Because DKA can be life-threatening and early symptoms can be vague, knowing what to watch out for can help detect and treat DKA early or prevent it altogether.

Second, there are emerging treatments and clinical trials that seek to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes in those who are at high risk. If you are at high risk for developing type 1 diabetes, it will be important to speak with an endocrinologist to learn whether these opportunities may be available and right for you.

health care professionals

Calling All Professionals

ADA convened leading experts, including endocrinologists, researchers, primary care professionals, certified diabetes care and education specialists, and mental health professionals, to understand opportunities and barriers to type 1 diabetes screening and awareness. The outcome of this roundtable is a report that outlines the discussion and potential opportunities for future direction. The report does not necessarily reflect official guidelines or recommendations from the American Diabetes Association or other participating organizations.

Teen young woman speaking to female physician

The Honeymoon Phase

Some people with type 1 diabetes have a "honeymoon" period, a brief period of time where your body is producing enough insulin to lower blood glucose levels. The honeymoon phase usually happens after you start taking insulin and you may not need as much to manage your blood glucose. Work with your diabetes care team for treatment and care to avoid complications like hypoglycemia. A honeymoon period can last as little as a week or even up to a year. It’s important to know that the absence of symptoms doesn't mean the diabetes is gone. The pancreas will eventually be unable to make enough insulin, and, if untreated, the symptoms will return.

Is it Possible You Don't Have Type 2 Diabetes? 

If you or someone you know is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes but isn’t able to manage it with the typical treatments for type 2 diabetes, it may be worth a visit to an endocrinologist to verify what type of diabetes you have. Generally, this requires antibody tests and possibly the measurement of a C-peptide level. It is important to be sure that your diagnosis is correct because that will determine your treatment plan, allowing you manage your diabetes and prevent its complications.

Resources for Type 1 Diabetes

Browse these resources for type 1 diabetes.

Information specialists at the Center for Information are your personal guides to information on diabetes, donation inquiries, as well as American Diabetes Association programs and events.

1-800-DIABETES ( 1-800-342-2383 )

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