Type 1 Diabetes – Patient Education Overview

When the immune system destroys beta cells (insulin-producing cells of the pancreas) in one’s own body, a shortage or lack of insulin results, leading to diabetes, type 1.

Originally called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependence, only about 5 percent of the diabetic community has this form of the disease. While diabetes, type 1 generally appears in childhood or adolescence, it can also appear in adults.

Factors contributing to type 1 diabetes include inheritance of certain genes and certain viral exposure.

Without insulin, sugar collects in the blood instead of entering cells to provide energy and nutrients. The high dose of blood sugar can then cause:

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis – the body breaks down fat cells to get ketones (acidic chemical) for energy. As the ketones collect, the blood becomes more acidic. The liver releases its stored sugar to compensate, but without insulin to metabolize the sugar, acid buildup becomes a life-threatening cycle
  • Dehydration – the body tries to eliminate excess sugar by urination, taking large amounts of water from the system with it, causing dehydration
  • Diabetic coma (hyperosmolar nonketotic diabetic coma) – can occur with extreme dehydration when patients are ill and incapable of taking in enough fluids to compensate for fluid loss
  • Weight loss - excess sugars are eliminated instead of being used for energy or stored in cells, causing weight loss
  • Body injury/damage - prolonged hyperglycemia (high sugar levels in the blood) increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The buildup eventually can lead to damage of nerves, large blood vessels, eyes, kidney and/or heart


Signs of diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • Lethargy, fatigue
  • Lack of focus/ blurred vision

Written by Barbara Hales, M.D.

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