What is it?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where an organ in your body called the pancreas, does not produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin’s job is to let sugar into cells to be used as energy. When there is no insulin, sugar builds up in the blood stream causing the symptoms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in childhood or adolescence but can develop later in life. Only 5-10% of people with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Type 1 diabetes can include the following:

  • Excessive thirst, also called polydipsia
  • Frequent urination, also called polyuria
  • Excessive hunger, also called polyphagia
  • Unintentional weight changes (gain or loss)
  • Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent or recurring infections
  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet

Symptoms of diabetes in your child could include:

  • Drinking and going to the bathroom more frequently than usual
  • Starting to wet the bed again
  • Lack of energy

If you or your child are experiencing any of these symptoms, speak to your doctor.

For more information on signs & symptoms of diabetes and how it is diagnosed click here.

Complications

Diabetes complications happen when your blood sugar levels are consistently high. The complications are divided into two types; those that affect the large blood vessels in your body (macrovascular), and those that affect the small blood vessels (microvascular). Macrovascular complications include heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Microvascular complications affect the eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

Learn more about the complications of diabetes

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) usually occurs only in Type 1 diabetes. If you have a high level of sugar in your blood and a low level of insulin, your body cannot use the sugar to produce energy. Instead your body will break down fat for energy producing substances called ketones. Excess ketones in your blood can make it acidic, and cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, and fruity smelling breath. If left untreated the excess ketones can cause DKA, which can lead to coma or death. DKA is a medical emergency and should be treated in a hospital. Following sick day guidelines and checking your blood sugar with a glucose meter can help prevent DKA.

Learn More about Sick Days

Treatment Options

Type 1 diabetes is always treated using insulin therapy. Today, human insulin and insulin analogues are used for treatment of diabetes. Human insulin was developed in the 1990s using recombinant DNA technology. Insulin analogues are made by chemically modifying human insulin. In the past, insulin from animals such as cows and pigs were used to treat diabetes. Using animal insulin to treat diabetes is no longer approved for use in Canada.

Blood Glucose Monitoring

A very important part of managing diabetes is monitoring your blood sugar levels. A blood glucose meter is used to monitor your blood sugar levels, using a small drop of blood from your finger.

Learn more about monitoring your blood sugars

Multiple Daily Injections

One way of treating diabetes is by giving multiple injections of insulin throughout the day. Usually injections of rapid-acting insulin are given before each meal, and an injection of long-acting insulin is given at bedtime. Injections are given using a syringe or insulin pen.

Long-Acting Insulin

Long-acting insulin is usually taken once or twice per day and is designed to provide you with a constant background level of insulin to lower your blood sugars. Long-acting insulin is chemically named insulin glargine or insulin detemir, and is marketed under the names Lantus, Basaglar, or Levemir. Longer-acting insulin is now available in Canada and these are chemically named insulin glargine U300 or insulin degludec, and are marketed under the names Toujeo or Tresiba.

Rapid-Acting Insulin

Rapid-acting insulin is usually taken before a meal to help your body deal with large amounts of carbohydrates. This type of insulin lasts for a very short time in your body. It is used in combination with long-acting insulin as part of multiple daily injection therapy, or in an insulin pump. Rapid-acting insulin is chemically named insulin aspart, insulin lispro, or insulin glulisine, and is marketed under the names NovoRapid, Humalog, or Apidra.  A faster-acting rapid insulin is now available in Canada and is chemically named insulin aspart, marketed under the name Fiasp.

Intermediate-Acting Insulin

Intermediate-acting insulin is designed to last half a day, or overnight, in your body and is often combined with short- or rapid-acting insulin as part of multiple daily injection therapy. This insulin is called Humulin N or Novolin ge NPH.

Short-Acting Insulin

Short-acting insulin is used to help your body deal with meals eaten 30-60 minutes after injection. It is often combined with intermediate-acting insulin as part of multiple daily injection therapy. It is found under the names Humulin R, or Novolin ge Toronto.

Mixed Insulin

Pre-mixed insulin is a combination of short- and intermediate-acting insulin mixed in specific proportions. It is usually taken 2-3 times per day based on meal times. The numbers found in the name indicate the proportions of each type of insulin.

Insulin Pump Therapy

Another treatment for diabetes is insulin pump therapy. An insulin pump is a small, battery powered computer about the size of a pager. The pump is programmed to give small continuous amounts of insulin from the reservoir through a small plastic tube connected to your body. Blood sugars must be monitored at least 4-7 times every day for pump therapy to be safe and effective. An insulin pump is not an artificial pancreas; it must be programmed and does not monitor your blood sugar levels.

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Islet Cell Transplantation

Islet cells in your pancreas make insulin. An islet cell transplant is a surgical procedure where the islet cells from a donor pancreas are implanted into the liver of a person with Type 1 diabetes. This procedure is designed to benefit patients who have difficulty with maintaining stable blood sugar levels, or who experience frequent severe hypoglycemia with hypoglycemia unawareness. Currently this procedure is still experimental, but it has been shown to result in insulin independence, improved glycemic control, and reduction or elimination of hypoglycemia.

To learn more about islet cell transplantation from the University of Alberta Clinical Islet Transplant Program

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Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a group of different healthcare practices and products that are not considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine works with conventional medicine; alternative medicine is used instead of conventional treatments. Some people with diabetes use CAM therapies to treat diabetes. Although some of these treatments may be safe and effective, others can be ineffective or even cause harm. If you are going to use CAM treatments you should keep your healthcare team informed.

Learn more about complementary and alternative medicine

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Lifestyle

Along with insulin therapy, some simple lifestyle changes can help you live a happy, healthy life. The key is keeping your blood sugar levels in a safe and healthy range for you.

You can do this by:

  • Regularly checking your blood sugar levels using a blood glucose meter
  • Following a healthy diet and understanding how the food you eat affects your blood sugar levels
  • Incorporating daily physical activity and exercise into your routine
  • Aiming for a healthy body weight
  • Managing the sources of stress in your life

Your healthcare team is there to support you in making these lifestyle changes.

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Support

Emotional support is an important part of diabetes care. Connecting with other people living with diabetes that understand what it feels like to count carbohydrates, and test blood glucose multiple times each day, along with all the other struggles living with diabetes can bring, can make a big difference in your life. Getting support from your family and friends can also be a great way to reduce your stress.

Local Events and Support

Dream Big

Living with Type 1 diabetes can be very challenging at times but by changing your lifestyle and managing your medications anything is possible. Some accomplishments by people with Type 1 diabetes include winning The Amazing Race, and driving in the Indie 500. No matter what your goals are, don’t let diabetes hold you back.