What is the Cause of Type 1 Diabetes

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What is the cause of type 1 diabetes is not something I understood until very recently.

Many people don’t understand there is a difference between type 1 and type 2, I know I didn’t.

what is the cause of type 1 diabetes - diabetes management suppliesBecause of the lack of understanding, there are a lot of misconceptions about type 1 diabetes.

I remember last year when our grandson was first diagnosed I was completely shocked because we all eat healthily. I mean When my kids were young we ate home-cooked healthy food and rarely ate fast food. We ate it so rarely that none of us liked it.

When our daughter had kids, she followed the same example and cooked healthy meals for her family.

So when Alex was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at just 4-years old I was completely shocked and did not understand how he could have gotten this.

Like so many others, I thought diabetes was caused by eating too much sugar.

That may be a possibility for developing type 2 diabetes but it has nothing to do with type 1 diabetes.

What is Type 1 Diabetes

When our bodies digest our food, carbohydrates are broken down into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose is a very important energy source for our body’s cells. To provide energy to the cells, glucose needs to leave the blood and enter the cells.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and is required to signal the cells to take up glucose.

Normally when we eat our blood glucose levels will rise, signaling the pancreas to make more insulin.what is the cause of type 1 diabetes - pancreas

During digestion, food is broken down into basic components. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, primarily glucose. Glucose is a critically important source of energy for the body’s cells. To provide energy to the cells, glucose needs to leave the blood and get inside the cells.

Insulin traveling in the blood signals the cells to take up glucose. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. When levels of glucose in the blood rise, like following a meal, the pancreas normally produces more insulin.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system destroys some or all of the beta cells (insulin-making cells) in your pancreas.

Without sufficient insulin to move the glucose from the blood to the cells, it will remain in the blood. This creates extremely high blood glucose levels and the cells starve.

Extremely high blood glucose levels are called hyperglycemia and can cause serious damage to various organs.

Because the body’s immune system has attacked and killed the necessary beta cells Type 1 diabetes is known as an auto-immune disease and is very different from Type 2 diabetes which is caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices.

What is the Cause of Type 1 Diabetes

what is the cause of type 1 diabetes - blood glucose

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease that occurs when your immune system destroys some or all of the beta cells (insulin-making cells) in your pancreas.

Without sufficient insulin to move the glucose from the blood to the cells, it will remain in the blood. This creates extremely high blood glucose levels and the cells starve.

Extremely high blood glucose levels are called hyperglycemia and can cause serious damage to various organs.

Because the body’s immune system has attacked and killed the necessary beta cells Type 1 diabetes is known as an auto-immune disease and is very different from Type 2 diabetes which is caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices.

 

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

The most common signs of type 1 diabetes can include:

  • extreme thirst
  • increased hunger (especially after eating)
  • dry mouth
  • nausea and vomiting
  • frequent urination
  • unexplained weight loss (even though you have a healthy appetite and are eating)
  • fatigue
  • blurry vision
  • frequent skin, urinary tract, or vaginal infections
  • labored, heavy breathing (doctors may call this Kussmaul respiration)
  • mood changes or crankiness
  • unusual bedwetting

More serious symptoms that require emergency care include:

  • shaking and confusion
  • rapid breathing
  • fruity-smelling breath
  • belly pain
  • loss of consciousness (rare)

Who’s at Risk

There are a few known risk factors for developing type 1 diabetes such as:

  • Family History – there is a slightly higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes if you have a parent or sibling who has it.
  • Genetics – the presence of certain genes could increase the risk
  • Geography – the further away from the equator you live tends to increase your risk
  • Age – type 1 can develop at any age there are two noticeable age groups where the incidence peaks and these are children between the ages of 4-7 and also in children between the ages of 10-14.

Treatment

Once diagnosed, treatment will include:

  • check blood glucose levels frequently throughout the day
  • several injections of insulin daily
  • well-balanced diet
  • regular exercise
  • regular sleep
  • regular appointments with your doctor and diabetes care teamwhat is the cause of type 1 diabetes - child coloring in coloring book

When our grandson was initially diagnosed, he was admitted to the hospital while the doctors figured out the best treatment plan for him.

Because he was only 4-years-old at the time his parents were required to stay with him to learn how to manage their son’s diabetes and keep him as healthy as possible.

He remained in the hospital for a week while they tried different types of insulin and different dosages.

Once they established the treatment plan that worked best for Alex and the doctors were confident that his parents could manage his care he was released.

He still meets with his diabetes care team every 3 months at which time they check his A1c levels.

Naturally, any family member who would possibly be caring for Alex needed to learn how to manage his diabetes.

Possible Complications

When blood glucose levels remain too high for a long time serious complications can occur which can include:

  • Cardiovascular disease – diabetes can increase the risk of high blood pressure, blood clots, and high cholesterol. These can lead to heart attack and stroke.
  • Skin problems – increased risk of bacterial and fungal infection as well as blisters or rashes.
  • Pregnancy problems – increased risk of early delivery, birth defects, stillbirth, and preeclampsia
  • Gum disease – lack of saliva, too much plaque, and poor blood flow can all lead to mouth problems
  • Retinopathy – occurs in about 80% of adults who have had type 1 for over 15 years, unusual in children. To keep your eyesight, carefully managing your blood glucose levels is imperative.
  • Kidney damage – 20% – 30% of type 1 patients develop nephropathy. This is most likely to develop after having type 1 for 15 to 20 years and can lead to kidney failure and heart disease.
  • Poor blood flow and nerve damage – can lead to a loss of feeling and poor blood supply in the feet, increasing the risk of open sores and injury. Because diabetes makes it harder to heal there is a risk of amputation. Nerve damage can also cause digestive problems like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

LifestyleWhat is the Cause of Type 1 Diabetes - balance of carbs and insulin

Even though diabetes management is a delicate balance of carbohydrates and insulin injections it can quickly and easily become a normal part of every day.

At first, the carb counting, finger poking, and insulin injections will seem scary and it may feel like you will never have a normal life again.

Let me assure you, it won’t take long before it all seems normal.

You will become very proficient and discover that with a little planning you can do anything you did before type 1 became a part of your life.

We easily learned how to check our grandson’s blood glucose levels, count carbs at mealtime, calculate his insulin dosage, and administer the insulin via a pen needle.

We now enjoy sleepovers with him just as we did before his diagnosis.

Alex is fortunate to have 2 older sisters to help care for him as well. His oldest sister is 15 and babysits him regularly when their parents have errands or just want an evening out. She is quite adept at caring for him and we are only a phone call away. If she wants help we can be there in 3 minutes, they live that close.

I can’t pinpoint when over the past year this all became normal and no longer a big deal but it did happen.

It will happen for you too and you will find it difficult to remember life before type 1.

Don’t Let Type 1 Stop You

Living with type 1 requires a little planning before doing things but you really can do anything.

Through my research to learn about type 1 diabetes I have come across many professional athletes who can successfully work diabetes management into their strict training programs.What is the Cause of Type 1 Diabetes - Will Cross

These are high-level athletes like gold medal Olympian Gary Hall Jr. or mountain climber Will Cross.

Anything you wish to do is possible. It just takes planning to ensure you always have what you need readily available to treat highs and lows immediately.

Traveling is certainly possible, take more than enough supplies with you.

We will be taking Alex and his sisters for an overnight sailing trip on our sailboat this summer. We will have plenty of supplies with us and we will check his glucose levels often.

The point is, don’t let type 1 stop you from living and experiencing all the adventures you wish to explore.

Where there is a will there is away.

Conclusion

What is the Cause of Type 1 Diabetes is only partially understood.

While we know that our immune system attacks and kills the insulin-producing beta cells within our pancreas, we don’t fully understand why this occurs.

We also know that family history, geography, genetics, and age all are factors that increase our risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Work with your doctor and diabetes care team and follow your diabetes management plan.

Check your blood glucose levels frequently and treat any highs or lows.

Eat a healthy well-balanced diet and include regular exercise into your daily routine.

You can do anything you previously did or play any sport you like or even travel anywhere.

Just be sure to plan to ensure you have all your necessary supplies with you.

Check your glucose levels before, during, and after exercise.

Follow the example of some of these top-level athletes and follow your dreams.

There is no limit to what you can accomplish.

“I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences.”

What are your favorite activities?

How do you fit diabetes management into your day?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

 


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4 thoughts on “What is the Cause of Type 1 Diabetes”

  1. That’s a very informative post. I didn’t know about the cause of Diabetes type 1. I thought, as you did, it was just less severe diabetes and caused by bad eating habits, basically sugars. I was surprised to see that a kid, like your grandson, could have it at so early age. I imagine it’s not easy for the kids and for the whole family to deal with that. On the other hand, once you get the right treatment and directions you can have a normal life, which is really a relief.
    Knowledge is real power. We don’t have control over everything but we can do our bit, eating healthily, doing exercise, and having a more peaceful life. Thanks for sharing such important information.

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting. Type 1 diabetes is often misunderstood and once I learned it wasn’t caused by an unhealthy lifestyle I knew I had to share that information. A healthy diet balanced with regular exercise is important for everyone, not just diabetics. Since our grandson enjoys superheroes I felt it important to find some real-life ones who share his type 1 struggles. Initially, it was scary but we have all adjusted and it is just our new normal. We do everything we used to do and more.

      Reply
  2. I can just imagined the shock of a 4 year old with diabetes, so I am very happy your family has the knowledge to care for him properly. Autoimmune diseases are taking over all our lives, and it just seems to be getting worse with each new generation

    Jeff

    Reply
    • You are so right Jeff it was a shock. Now that we are a year in, we have learned so much and are comfortable in the knowledge we can keep his blood glucose levels close to target range. There does seem to be a huge spike in the development of autoimmune diseases in recent years. I can’t help but wonder if it has something to do with our constant exposure to various chemicals like pesticides. Our dependence on chemicals just keeps becoming more prevalent with each generation.

      Reply

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