Diabetes mellitus type 1

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at March 18, 2016
StartDiseasesDiabetes mellitus type 1

Diabetes mellitus type 1 is a metabolic disorder in which special cells in the pancreas fail to produce the insulin that is needed to remove glucose from the bloodstream. The buildup of sugar in the body can cause a variety of medical problems and even death. Appropriate treatment can help individuals with diabetes to live long and healthy lives. It is also known as insulin dependent diabetes and juvenile diabetes.


Definition & Facts

Type 1 diabetes is also known as “insulin dependent diabetes,” because the individual’s body fails to produce the insulin needed to allow cells to utilize the glucose in the body. It was once known as “juvenile diabetes,” because it was often discovered in childhood or early adolescence. However, adults can also have type-1 diabetes.

The effects of uncontrolled blood glucose can have serious health effects and can even threaten life. Currently, there is no cure for diabetes mellitus type 1, but research continues to find a way to help the body produce its own insulin to prevent the damaging effects of this disease.

Symptoms & Complaints

Diabetes mellitus type 1 is suspected when characteristic symptoms develop such as:

Diabetes type 1 also causes a variety of other medical problems that are a result of the imbalance in the body, such as:


Medical science has not yet determined a cause for diabetes mellitus type 1. Studies indicate a problem in the immune system, which attack the beta cells in the islets of Langerhans (pancreatic islets). When this occurs, these cells can no longer produce insulin, which is needed to regulate blood sugar.

Why the immune system begins to attack these cells is unknown. Some evidence indicates it has a genetic origin. If one has a family member with type 1 diabetes, one has an increased risk of also having it. Type 1 diabetes appears most frequently in children between 4 and 7 years of age, and those between 10 and 14 years of age.

Some evidence shows a link between certain viruses and the development of type 1 diabetes. If an individual’s mother had pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, the person is at higher risk for type 1 diabetes. If the person is born with jaundice, the risk is also higher.

Some studies indicate that early exposure to cow’s milk links to increased risk for type 1 diabetes. Other studies suggest a link to vitamin D deficiency and early introduction of cereal in the diet. More research is needed to clarify these links.

Diagnosis & Tests

Several different tests are used to diagnose type 1 diabetes. The random blood sugar test takes blood at random times. A high sugar level, coupled with other symptoms such as increased thirst and frequent urination can be indicative of diabetes.

The glycated hemoglobin test measures blood sugar levels over 2 to 3 months. It measures the sugar that attaches to hemoglobin, a protein in the blood that carries oxygen. The fasting blood sugar test is done after an overnight fast. The high level of glucose in the body at this time can indicate diabetes.

Additionally, the doctor may order a test that measures antibodies that are commonly found in the body when diabetes is present. The amount of ketones in the body can also indicate diabetes.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatment for diabetes mellitus type 1 primarily rests upon replacing the insulin that the body needs for normal function. Both long-acting and short-acting types of insulin are available, along with intermediate forms. The patient may supply the insulin through injection or through one of the many insulin pump devices that are now on the market that make management of this condition more accurate and convenient. A number of types of insulin are available to provide the best management of insulin levels in the body.

Frequent blood sugar monitoring is required to prevent dangerous fluctuations. Weight management is an important aspect to type 1 diabetes care. An individual's physician will help educate the patient on the best diet for living with type 1 diabetes.

Monitoring carbohydrate levels is critical to maintaining normal blood sugar levels. Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes each day helps to regulate blood sugar levels and improve overall health. A variety of products are available to help diabetics manage wound care and foot problems. These items can help to treat the circulation problems that are often a feature of this disease. Regular visits to the eye doctor will ensure that the individual is managing his or her type 1 diabetes well in order to avoid vision problems.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Currently, there is no way to prevent diabetes mellitus type 1. If a person is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, he or she should follow the doctor’s instructions carefully. Meeting with a nutritionist or dietitian can help one learn the best ways to eat to manage your blood sugar levels more effectively.

Regular visits to the doctor will help ensure that prescribed medication is appropriate for good control of your blood sugar levels. A patient's doctor can help the individual manage any diabetes-related problems that occur in daily life.