Since there is no cure for type 1 diabetes, treatment is focused on controlling the condition effectively in order to minimize symptoms and delay disease progression. The disease is caused by damaged or destroyed pancreatic beta cells that fail to secrete insulin.
Insulin is a vital hormone that stimulates the uptake of glucose in the blood by muscles, fat, liver and other cells of the body so it can be used an energy source for various cellular functions. Since individuals with type 1 diabetes lack insulin, the main focus of treatment is insulin replacement therapy.
Regular insulin injections timed in conjunction with meal times coupled with regular exercise can maintain blood sugar at a level that is as normal as possible and help to prevent symptoms and delay the onset of complications.
Treatment outline for type 1 diabetes
After diabetes is diagnosed, the patient is usually referred to an endocrinologist, a specialist in hormonal systems. The endocrinologist develops a long-term treatment plan during which the patient's is closely monitored for adequate blood sugar control and signs of diabetes complications.
In addition to taking insulin, the patient is encouraged to adopt a healthy lifestyle and to partake in monitored physical exercise regularly, to eat a low-calorie, balanced, healthy diet and to cease any smoking or drinking habits.
The patient needs to check for signs of complication such as hypoglycemia or a sudden fall in blood sugar and should attend regular screening for other complications of the disease such as retinopathy, nephropathy, diabetic foot and heart disease.
It is important for patients to be to be aware that conditions such as ketoacidosis and hypoglycemia can cause a loss of consciousness and diabetic coma.
The insulin preparations used for supplementation are available with different durations of action. For example, while some can provide blood sugar reducing effect over a short period of time after meals, others control it for up to 8 to 12 hours or longer.
Insulin is available only in injectable forms and cannot be taken orally or by any other route. Injections can be given using an insulin syringe or an injection pen and around two to four injections per day are needed to maintain a normal blood sugar level throughout the day.
For some people, an insulin pump may be used to provide regular pulses of insulin by way of a fixed needle connected to a small device containing the insulin. This precludes the need for repeated skin punctures and injections.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc