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What is type 1 diabetes?

In 2018, there were an estimated 20,700 people living with type 1 diabetes aged under 25. This age group is 3.6 times more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than those aged 25 years or older, but that doesn’t mean adults are immune to it.

What it does mean is that type 1 diabetes is a condition we need to be aware of early on, so conditions like cardiovascular disease, blindness and Alzheimer’s don’t become more common as a result.

But if we’re going to do that, we need to understand what type 1 diabetes actually is.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Firstly, type 1 diabetes is not preventable. It occurs when the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This is a problem because it means the body cannot produce the insulin it needs to use glucose for energy.

Researchers aren’t sure what causes the body to do this, but It means insulin replacement is essential to help the body function normally.

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Insulin is a hormone that helps the body’s cells use glucose for energy, which it gets from the foods we eat. However, in type 1 diabetes, the body cannot produce insulin, which means there is excess glucose circulating in the blood.

Type 1 diabetes will require a careful balance of diet, exercise and management of insulin throughout the day using insulin injection or insulin pump.

So, what are the risk factors when it comes to type 1 diabetes? What symptoms should we be looking out for? And is there anything that can be done to manage type 1 diabetes? Keep reading as we break down everything you need to know about managing your condition.

Click here to find out what is diabetes?

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Risk factors

The risk factors for type 1 diabetes can be easily missed, so it’s important to understand the early warning signs.

Risk factors include:

  • Family history: If you have a family member with type 1 diabetes, you are at greater risk of developing it.
  • Age: Although type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, including adulthood, it mainly develops during childhood and adolescence, with most people diagnosed under the age of 30.
  • Viruses: Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, and researchers think the body accidentally destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, causing type 1 diabetes.

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Symptoms of type 1 diabetes

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can occur quite suddenly and are usually easy to spot. So, if you notice any of these symptoms happening to you, or your children, it is crucial to see your doctor immediately.

  • Increased thirst and frequent urination: When the body can’t produce insulin, glucose isn’t able to be used for energy and instead remains in our bloodstream. . One consequence of high glucose levels in our blood is that extra fluid is drawn from the body, making us wee more. Excessive urination - often accompanied by an increase in thirst - is a common symptom of type 1 diabetes.
  • Bedwetting in children who previously have not wet the bed
  • Extreme hunger: Always feeling hungry could be a result of a high carbohydrate diet, which is one reason Defeat Diabetes recommends a low carb, healthy fat diet to keep you satiated.
  • Unintended weight loss: When glucose levels become too high, our kidneys have to work harder to get rid of unused sugar through urine. This causes weight loss due to dehydration and loss of water in muscles.
  • Irritability: Mood swings can be a result of fluctuating blood sugar levels. This can also lead to anxiety, depression and stress.
  • Fatigue and weakness: Tiredness and fatigue aren’t the same things. If you’re tired, you should feel better after resting. When you’re fatigued, the feelings of lethargy may never leave; fatigue can be caused by changes in blood sugar levels, weight problems, mental health issues as a result of type 1 diabetes or other health complications of diabetes.
  • Blurry vision: The eye is especially vulnerable to complications from type 1 diabetes. There are a number of conditions resulting from diabetes that can lead to blindness. This is why diabetes is the most common cause of blindness in Australia today.

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Diagnosis

So, you’ve noticed some possible type 1 diabetes symptoms, but how do you get some answers? The first thing to do is to consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms.

Some tests might include:

  • Fasting blood glucose test: For this test, you’ll need to fast for eight hours. A blood sample will be taken to determine your blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels of less than 100mg/dL are normal, whereas a result of 100-125 mg/dL is considered pre-diabetes. Anything above 126 mg/dL in two separate tests means you have type 1 diabetes.
  • Random blood glucose test: No fasting is required for this test. Instead, a blood sample will be taken at a random time, regardless of when you last ate. A result of 200 mg/dL or above indicates you have type 1 diabetes.
  • Haemoglobin A1C test (known as HbA1c): This shows the average blood glucose levels for the previous two or three months. An HbA1c level of 6.5%, or higher, on two separate occasions, indicates you have type 1 diabetes.

Health effects

Without properly managing type 1 diabetes, it can lead to a number of serious health effects and complications, impacting major organs in the body, such as the heart, nerves, eyes and kidneys.

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The Defeat Diabetes Program aims to maintain normal blood sugar levels, which can play a huge role in managing the risks of further complications.

Some health effects are:

  • Heart disease: Diabetes increases your risk of various cardiovascular problems, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, narrowing of the arteries and high blood pressure.
  • Nerve damage: Excess sugar can impact the blood vessels that nourish your nerves, especially in the legs, causing tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward.
  • Kidney damage: The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters that filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can damage this system. Severe damage can lead to kidney failure or irreversible kidney disease, which requires dialysis or a transplant.
  • Blindness: This occurs because of damage to the very small blood vessels at the back of the eye. Having stable blood sugar levels and regular health checks with your GP can help prevent this from happening.
  • Foot damage: Poor blood flow to the feet increases the risk of various foot complications. Left untreated, cuts and blisters can become serious infections that take longer to heal and may ultimately require amputation.
  • Recurrent infections: High blood glucose levels also harm your immune system. This means that infections such as bladder infections, tinea and thrush are quite common in those with diabetes.
  • Pregnancy complications: High blood sugar levels can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby. The risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects increases when diabetes isn't managed properly.

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Treatment and medications

There is no cure for type 1 diabetes. Management requires insulin injections several times a day or the use of an insulin pump, where you wear the device on the outside of your body with a tube connecting to a catheter inserted just under the skin.

Some of these insulin medications are:

  • Short-acting insulin
  • Rapid-acting insulin
  • Intermediate-acting insulin
  • Long-acting insulin

However, there are a number of other things you can do to help manage type 1 diabetes, including blood sugar monitoring, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight, as well as adopting a low carb, healthy fat diet such as the Defeat Diabetes Program.

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Always check in with your doctor before making any decisions about changing your treatment plan for type 1 diabetes to see if it’s right for you.

Management

While there is no cure for type 1 diabetes, and managing your condition will always require insulin injections, your doctor may adjust medications from time to time to reflect any changes in blood sugar levels.

It is important to remember, your management plan can involve a lot more than just medications and diet because your wellbeing also relies on having a solid support system.

Other factors to consider are:

  • A support system: Whether it’s your family, your friends or other Defeat Diabetes community members, having people you can talk to about your journey is important to stay on track with a low carb lifestyle.
  • Get better quality sleep: We need deep sleep to replace and repair muscle and bone, as well as helping our hormones remain balanced. Aim for 8 hours a night.
  • Regular exercise: Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, as well as help your cells better deal with insulin and keep your muscles healthy. You might like to try yoga, which has been proven to decrease stress, improve sleep and immune function and reduce food cravings.
  • Being kind to yourself: We’re all human, and we all slip up from time to time. Managing your type 1 diabetes means recognising that although you can’t put your condition into remission, it is possible to manage your blood glucose and even potentially reduce medication under the care of your health professional.

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The team at Defeat Diabetes, supported by the latest evidence and a medical advisory panel of dietitians, GPs and surgeons, believe diet can help manage type 1 diabetes even though it is a lifelong condition.

If you’d like to know more or would like to share your success story, drop us a line in the ‘Help’ box below or at hello@defeatdiabetes.com.au.

Join Australia's first evidence-based and doctor-led program transforming the health of Australians. Download the Defeat Diabetes app today.

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