Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but a family history of diabetes, viruses that injure the pancreas, and autoimmune processes are all thought to play a role. Symptoms often develop abruptly and the affected person may be seriously ill, even comatose when the diagnosis is made. Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle.
Living with type 1 diabetes is a constant challenge. People with the disease must carefully balance insulin doses with eating and other activities. They must also constantly measure their blood-glucose level. Despite this constant attention, people with type 1 diabetes still run the risk of dangerous high or low blood-glucose levels, both of which can be life threatening.
Since type 1 diabetics make very little or no insulin, any insulin-producing beta cells they do have at the time of diagnosis are usually completely destroyed within 5 to 10 years, leaving them entirely reliant on insulin injections to live. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, type 1 diabetics can learn to manage their condition and live normal lives.