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What Is Type 1 Diabetes?

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Thousands of kids all over the world have type 1 diabetes (say: dye-uh-BEE-tees). What is it? Let's find out.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose (say: GLOO-kose), a sugar that is the body's main source of fuel. Your body needs glucose to keep running. Here's how it should work:

  1. You eat.
  2. Glucose from the food gets into your bloodstream.
  3. Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin (say: IN-suh-lin).
  4. Insulin helps the glucose get into the body's cells.
  5. Your body gets the energy it needs.

The pancreas is a long, flat gland in your belly that helps your body digest food. It also makes insulin. Insulin is kind of like a key that opens the doors to the cells of the body. It lets the glucose in. Then the glucose can move out of the blood and into the cells.

But if someone has diabetes, the body either can't make insulin or the insulin doesn't work in the body like it should. The glucose can't get into the cells normally, so the blood sugar level gets too high. Lots of sugar in the blood makes people sick if they don't get treatment.

What Is Type 1 Diabetes?

The two major types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can't make insulin. The body can still get glucose from food but the glucose can't get into the cells where it's needed. Glucose stays in the blood, which makes the blood sugar level very high and causes health problems. To fix the problem, someone with type 1 diabetes needs to take insulin through regular shots or an insulin pump.

Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still makes insulin, but the insulin doesn't work in the body like it should and blood sugar levels get too high.

No one knows for sure what causes type 1 diabetes, but scientists think it has something to do with genes. Genes are like instructions for how the body should look and work that are passed on by parents to their kids.

If your doctor thinks you might have type 1 diabetes, you might visit a doctor called a pediatric endocrinologist (say: pee-dee-AHT-trik en-doh-krih-NAHL-eh-jist), a type of doctor who helps kids with diabetes, growth problems, and more. The doctor will use a blood test to measure the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. High blood sugars show that a kid has diabetes. Then, the doctor will do more blood tests to find out what type it is.What Happens in Diabetes?

What Are the Signs of Type 1 Diabetes?

When people first have diabetes, they usually:

  • pee a lot because the body tries to get rid of the extra blood sugar by passing it out of the body in the urine (pee)
  • drink a lot to make up for all that peeing
  • eat a lot because the body is hungry for the energy it can't get from sugar
  • lose weight as the body starts to use fat and muscle for fuel because it can't use sugar normally
  • feel tired a lot because the body can't use sugar for energy

Getting treatment for diabetes can stop these symptoms from happening.

How Is Type 1 Diabetes Treated?

Kids who have type 1 diabetes have to pay a little more attention to what they eat and do than kids without diabetes. They need to:

  • take insulin as their doctor prescribed
  • eat a healthy, balanced diet with accurate carbohydrate counts
  • check blood sugar levels as prescribed
  • get regular exercise

Kids with diabetes will have to do special things sometimes, like eat a snack on the bus during a long school trip. Or they might have to wake up earlier than everyone else at a sleepover to take their insulin and have some breakfast to keep their blood sugar levels under control.

What Else Should I Know?

Although this might seem like a lot of work, the good news is that new products and equipment can help make it easier for kids to take care of their diabetes. Scientists are looking for ways to make it easier to check blood sugar levels and give insulin. They're also trying to find ways to get insulin into the body without shots. And there's hope that one day a cure will be found.

Even though kids with diabetes have to do some special things, it doesn't keep them from doing the stuff they love. They can still play sports, go out with their friends, and go on trips. So if you have a friend with diabetes, let him or her know you can deal with it. Being friends is all about having fun together, not having a perfect pancreas!

Date reviewed: September 2021