Type 1 Diabetes: Understanding your diabetes

Understanding your diabetes

Understanding your diabetes is the first step towards managing it, feeling better and living a longer, healthier life.  It is a manageable disease especially when you have the right tools, information and support.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 is when the body attacks and destroys (autoimmune) the cells (beta cells) that make insulin in the pancreas so that it makes little or no insulin. Our body needs insulin to use sugar (glucose) found in many foods for energy.

Approximately 10% of people with diabetes have type 1 and it is most often seen in children and young adults but may also occur later in life. The cause of type 1 is still unknown.

It can be well managed by healthy eating, exercise, blood glucose testing and daily insulin injections. Insulin was discovered in Canada in 1922-1923 by Frederick Banting and Charles Best.

Basic facts about type 1 diabetes

  • It accounts for about 10 per cent of diabetes worldwide.
  • Usually diagnosed before the age of 30 but can occur at any age
  • Most people with type 1 are lean when diagnosed
  • 85-90 per cent will have no family history
  • It is not known what causes type 1 but theories are: autoimmune disease, viral infection, genetic predisposition and environmental factors
  • Researchers are seeking ways to identify high risk individuals and protect them

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes

Although some people have no symptoms, most people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes have the following signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar):

  • Blurred vision
  • Decreased mental sharpness
  • Extreme thirst and hunger
  • Feeling tired (fatigue)
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Frequent skin infections
  • Weight loss despite having an increased appetite
  • Slow-healing wounds 

In some cases, severe symptoms of very high blood sugar may develop. They include:

  • Confusion
  • Fast breathing
  • Fruity-smelling breath (a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis)
  • Loss of coordination
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Shaking
  • Slurred speech
  • Unconsciousness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fast heartbeat   

It's absolutely critical to get immediate medical attention if any of the above severe symptoms develop. Make sure you get to a hospital right away.

Learn more in the Type 1 Diabetes FAQ