Type 1 Diabetes
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What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when your body’s pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin. Insulin is a hormone that your body uses to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy that is necessary to live.
It is also called insulin-dependent diabetes and sometimes called juvenile diabetes. It is usually diagnosed in children and teenagers, but can develop at any age. More than 300,000 Canadians live with type 1 diabetes.
What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:
- Extreme hunger
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Blurry vision
What problems can type 1 diabetes cause?
When you digest food, your body changes most of the food you eat into glucose (a form of sugar). Insulin allows this glucose to enter all the cells of your body and be used as energy. When you have type 1 diabetes, because your body doesn’t make insulin, the glucose builds up in your blood instead of moving into the cells. Too much glucose in the blood can lead to serious health problems.
People who have type 1 diabetes are more likely to have heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, high blood pressure, blindness, nerve damage and gum disease. When you have type 1 diabetes, blood may not move as well through your legs and feet. If you don’t get proper treatment, severe nerve damage can occur and lead to amputation (removal) of your feet. Untreated type 1 diabetes can cause a person to go into a coma. It can even kill you. The good news is that treatment and lifestyle changes can help prevent these problems.
How can these problems be prevented?
To help prevent these problems, follow your healthcare provider’s advice about diet and exercise. A healthy diet is key to controlling your blood sugar. Exercise helps move the sugar from your blood into your cells.
Carefully follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for taking your insulin. Don’t smoke. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels. If you do all of these things, you greatly reduce your risk of complications.
What should I eat?
The best diet for people who have type 1 diabetes is a diet that is also healthy for everyone: low in fat, low in cholesterol, low in salt and low in added sugars. It includes lots of complex carbohydrates (such as whole-grain breads, cereals and pasta), fruits and vegetables. This type of diet will help you control your blood sugar level, as well as your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s also important to watch your portion size so you can control your blood sugar and maintain a healthy weight.
How do I control my blood sugar level?
People who have type 1 diabetes take insulin to keep their blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. There are several types of insulin that range from rapid‑acting to long‑acting. Some examples are listed below. You and your healthcare provider will decide which type of insulin (or combination of insulin) is right for you.
- Rapid-acting insulin (such as Apidra, Humalog, NovaRapid) starts working in about 10-15minutes, peaks in 1-2 hours and lasts for 3-5 hours.
- Short-acting insulin (such as Humulin-R, Novolin ge Toronto) starts working in 30 minutes, peaks at 2 to 3 hours, and lasts 6.5 hours.
- Intermediate-acting insulin (such as Humlin-N, Novolin ge NPH) starts working in 1 to 3 hours, peaks at 5-8 hours, and lasts up to 18 hours.
- Long-acting insulin (such as Levemir, Lantus) starts working 90 minutes and lasts 16-24 hours.
- Premixed insulin is a combination of 2 types of insulin (usually a rapid‑ or short‑acting insulin and an intermediate‑acting insulin).
Insulin is given either by injection or via an insulin pump infusion. There are no insulin pills, because the enzymes in the stomach interfere with its action.
The best way to monitor your blood sugar is to test it often. In order to do this, you will prick your finger to get a small drop of blood that you put on a test strip. You then insert the strip into a machine called an electronic glucose meter. The results will tell you whether or not your blood sugar is in a healthy range. Your healthcare provider will work with you to determine the right amount of insulin and when to take it.
How will I know if my blood sugar level is too high?
High blood sugar (also called hyperglycemia) can occur even if you are eating properly and taking your insulin correctly.
Eating too much food at a meal, getting sick, having hormonal changes and feeling stressed out can affect your blood sugar.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia include the following:
- Frequent urination
- Extreme thirst
- Blurry vision
- Feeling very tired
What should I do if my blood sugar level is too high?
If your blood sugar level goes higher than it should, you may need to take an extra dose of rapid- or short-acting insulin to return your blood sugar to the normal range. Your healthcare provider can tell you how much insulin you need to take to lower your blood sugar level.
What are the signs of low blood sugar?
People who take insulin may have times when their blood sugar level is too low. Low blood sugar is called hypoglycemia.
Signs of hypoglycemia include the following:
- Feeling very tired
- Frequent yawning
- Being unable to speak or think clearly
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Suddenly feeling like you’re going to pass out
- Becoming very pale
- Loss of consciousness
People who have diabetes should carry at least 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate with them at all times in case of hypoglycemia. The following are examples of quick sources of energy that can relieve the symptoms:
- 15 g of glucose in the form of glucose tablets
- 15 mL (1 tablespoon) or 3 packets of sugar dissolved in water
- 150 mL (2/3 cup) of juice or regular soft drink
- Candy: 6 LifeSavers (1 = 2.5 g of carbohydrates)
- 15 mL (1 tablespoon) of honey (do not use for children less than 1 year old)
If you don’t feel better 15 minutes after having a fast-acting carbohydrate, or if monitoring shows that your blood sugar level is still too low, have another 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate.
Teach your friends, work colleagues and family members how to treat hypoglycemia, because sometimes you may need their help. Also, keep a supply of glucagon on hand. Glucagon comes in a kit with a powder and a liquid that must be mixed together and then injected (given as a shot). It will raise your blood sugar level. If you are unconscious, or you can’t eat or drink, another person can give you a shot of glucagon. This will bring your blood sugar level back to normal.
How else can I prevent complications with my diabetes?
The following tips can help you stay healthy if you have type 1 diabetes:
- Keep your blood pressure at a healthy level (below 130/80 mm Hg).
- Maintain a healthy cholesterol level (under 5.2 mmol/L).
- Monitor your blood sugar and maintain it within your target range.
- Take care of your feet and check them every day for signs of injury and infection.
- Have an eye exam every year to check your vision.
- Exercise regularly. Make aerobic exercises such as walking, swimming or biking for 30 minutes most days part of your routine. Stretching and strength training are also good. Get your healthcare provider’s permission and monitor your blood sugar since exercise lowers blood sugar.
- See your dentist twice a year to check your teeth and gums.
- Stay up-to-date on your immunizations. Get a flu shot each year and a tetanus booster every 10 years.
- Don’t smoke.
- Manage your stress.
Can I live a normal life with diabetes?
Yes, you can live a normal life. You can stay healthy if you do what it takes to control your diabetes.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
American Diabetes Association