Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes (also known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus — IDDM — or juvenile diabetes) occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin because the cells that produce insulin have been destroyed by the immune system. Without insulin, sugar is not able to move into the cells. Sugar therefore remains in the blood, leading to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).  Type 1 is the most common type of diabetes found in children and young adults. It is now believed that diabetes develops gradually, over many months or even years. The immune system destroys more and more insulin-producing (beta) cells in the pancreas over time, until the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is made. 

Who gets type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is seen most often in children and young adults, although the disease can occur at any age. People with Type 1 disease are often thin to normal weight and often lose weight prior to diagnosis. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5-10% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes:

Any combination of the following factors may put people at a higher risk for type 1 diabetes:

  • Self-allergy (autoimmunity): The immune system usually protects us from disease, but in the case of type 1 diabetes, the immune system turns against the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin (beta cells). If you have any type of autoimmune disease, your risk of developing diabetes increases. Doctors can test for diabetes antibodies, specifically one called GAD65. Measuring this antibody early in the disease can help your medical team determine if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
  • Genes: People with type 1 diabetes are more likely to have inherited genes putting them at risk.  Over 50% of those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes also have a close relative with the disease.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes:

Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes may include any combination of:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach ache

Treatment for type 1 diabetes

The goal of type 1 diabetes management is to keep your blood sugars as close to normal as possible. The primary treatment for type 1 diabetes is insulin injections, since the body is not making enough insulin to keep cells functioning normally. Components of diabetes care include:

  • Insulin therapy
  • Glucose monitoring
  • Meal planning
  • Physical activity
  • Screening for and treating complications

Honeymoon Period

People with type 1 diabetes will need insulin for the rest of their lives; however, there is often a “honeymoon” period that occurs a short time after the diagnosis of diabetes. Once a person starts insulin injections, sugar production is turned off in the liver and some insulin is still being made in the remaining beta cells of the pancreas. The need for insulin decreases and blood sugars return to almost normal levels. People sometimes think they don't actually have diabetes, but that is not the case. This period may last a few weeks to a few years, but after the “honeymoon” period ends, the body will need more insulin.

How will type 1 diabetes affect my life?

People with type 1 diabetes may live a long, healthy life by keeping tight management of their blood sugar. Diabetes care needs to be an important part of your life in order to enjoy the rest of it. Work with your health-care team to develop a self-care plan that works for you.

Get help at the University of Michigan

If you have type 1 diabetes, there are several ways you can be involved with the care and resources at U-M. To make an appointment with a clinician, reach out to one of the locations listed below. You can take an education class on type 1 led by a group of diabetes and self-care experts from U-M—learn more about our classes.