Type 1 Diabetes

Definition     Symptoms     Diagnosis
There is often confusion between the two types of diabetes. While they both deal with the endocrine system, the pancreas and metabolizing glucose, they are rather different diseases.

Type 2 diabetes is sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes and usually develops later in life. With type 2 the body is unable to properly use insulin to absorb glucose from food, also known as insulin resistance. Over time the pancreas may make less and less insulin leading to insulin deficiency.

In type 1 diabetes the immune system attacks the body’s insulin producing beta cells eventually eliminating insulin production. Type 1 diabetics are normally diagnosed during childhood but more adult diagnoses are becoming common.

The major difference between the types is insulin dependency. Type 2 diabetic’s pancreas still produce insulin throughout most of their lives. Some may take small doses of insulin to help combat high blood sugars but type 1 diabetics are entirely dependent on an external source of insulin. Someone with type 1 must receive insulin doses either by injection or pump multiple times a day.

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Those of us with type 1 diabetes face adverse symptoms on a daily basis. Some days are harder than others. A lot depends on the quality of blood sugar control (not an easy task) but even with the best control, a bad day can come out of left field. Here is a list of symptoms and hardships most prominent in my day to day to life.

  • Lethargy

Diabetic fatigue is a very common symptom caused by out of range blood sugars. When sugars are above normal range blood becomes thicker and slows circulation, not allowing cells to get the oxygen and nutrients needed to produce energy. When glucose levels are low there is not enough fuel in the blood to power the cells. A low blood sugar can cause the diabetic to feel sick and lethargic for hours and sometimes days.

  • Mood Swings

High and low blood glucose levels can cause serious mood issues in those with both types of diabetes. During a low I am usually out of it and often get short and cranky, snapping at the littlest irritant. Ever seen the Snickers commercial where the guys give their friend a Snickers when he’s acting grumpy or being a diva? That’s a low blood sugar episode! High glucose levels cause exhaustion and have a sort of depressing effect on mood. Fluctuations in blood glucose levels effect hormone balance and can send a diabetic on an emotional roller coaster. Even when BG is in range, a steep drop or climb in levels called glycemic variability can throw my mood all out of whack. I try my best to adopt patience and control my outbursts but I have had to give quite a few apologies when my BG isn’t cooperating and some unfortunate soul is there to witness it.

  • Motion Sickness

I experience severe cases of motion sickness when riding in a bus or as a passenger in a car. I have done a lot of research on the effects of diabetes on the equilibrium but I seem to be a rare case. Few other diabetics I have talked to experience these symptoms to the same extent. I never had issues with motion sickness before diagnosis but ever since I absolutely have to drive or ride shotgun in a car. Bus trips can be tough but I keep plenty of dramamine on hand when traveling.



Diabetes, type 1: An autoimmune disease that occurs when T cells attack and destroy most of the beta cells in the pancreas that are needed to produce insulin, so that the pancreas makes too little insulin (or no insulin). Without the capacity to make adequate amounts of insulin, the body is not able to metabolize blood glucose (sugar), to use it efficiently for energy, and toxic acids (called ketoacids) build up in the body. There is a genetic predisposition to type 1 diabetes.

The disease tends to occur in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood (before age 30) but it may have its clinical onset at any age. The symptoms and signs of type 1 diabetes characteristically appear abruptly, although the damage to the beta cells may begin much earlier and progress slowly and silently.

The symptoms and signs include a great thirst, hunger, a need to urinate often, and loss of weight. Among the risks of the disease are serious complications, among them blindness, kidney failure, extensive nerve damage, and accelerated atherosclerosis. The long-term aim with treatment is to avoid these complications or, at the least, to slow their progression. There is no known cure.

To treat the disease, the person must inject insulin, follow a diet plan, exerciseadequately (ideally, daily), and test their blood glucose several times a day.

This type of diabetes used to be known as “juvenile diabetes,” “juvenile-onset diabetes,” and “ketosis-prone diabetes.” It is now called type 1 diabetes mellitus or insulin-dependent diabetes.


Leading up to my diagnosis I began to notice the tell tale symptoms of type 1 diabetes. The first thing I noticed was blurry vision. It became hard to focus and I had little fuzzy blurs floating around in my field of view (I later learned that this was caused by excess glucose building up in my retinas). Then I noticed rapid weight loss. I lost 40 lbs in about two months! Next came the insatiable hunger and thirst. No matter what I ate my stomach still felt like a bottomless pit and no amount of water could keep my mouth from feeling like a cactus in the desert. Increased thirst led to increased urination. I was going to the restroom every 20-30 minutes! The final symptom that led me to believe something was seriously wrong was the total exhaustion. I laid on my couch for almost 3 straight days until my room mates took action and had my parents take me to the hospital where I was rushed into the ER and told I was in Diabetic Ketoacidosis. My blood sugar was 511 and my hemoglobin A1C was 11.2 (normal is under 7!). The doctors ordered me to be transferred to the intensive care unit but there were no rooms available so they had to treat me in the cramped emergency room. Insulin drips, burning potassium IVs, blood sugar checks every hour, doctors constantly in and out and worst of all they wouldn’t let me eat. Those were probably the most miserable 4 days of my life. Luckily I was so out of it that it all went by in a blur and next thing I knew I was checking my blood 5 times a day, counting carbs and giving myself insulin injections. Oh how life can change in the blink of an eye.

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