What is Type 1 Diabetes?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Type 1 diabetes mellitus describes a condition where the body cannot produce insulin which leads to a very high level of blood sugar and associated complications. The condition, which usually develops in childhood or adolescence, affects millions of people worldwide.

Types of diabetes and their pathology

There are two main types of diabetes which include:

Type 1 diabetes or insulin dependent diabetes mellitus or (IDDM)

Type 1 diabetes is also called juvenile diabetes mellitus because it usually begins before the age of 25 years, accounting for 95% of diabetes in people from this age group. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas fails to produce adequate amounts of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and helps the body utilize sugar.

The insulin is not produced because the body's immune system mistakes the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas for foreign bodies and mounts an immune attack against them that causes their destruction. Individuals with type 1 diabetes are therefore dependent on insulin injections for their blood sugar to be regulated.

Type 2 diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM)

This type of diabetes is also called maturity-onset diabetes as it often develops around middle age. With this condition, the body either fails to produce enough insulin to meet the needs of the body or the insulin that is produced fails to act as it usually would on the cells of the body. The latter is known of as insulin resistance.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes mellitus

There are three main symptoms of diabetes which include polydipsia (increased thirst), polyphagia (increased hunger) and polyuria (increased frequency of urination). In addition, patients may complain of fatigue, weight loss and loss of muscle bulk. Type 1 diabetes can develop very quickly, over weeks or even days.

Diagnosis and treatment of type 1 diabetes mellitus

Early diagnosis and treatment is vital in type 1 diabetes. Diagnosis involves the assessment of blood sugar and insulin levels and treatment is aimed at maintaining blood sugar at an around normal level.

If left untreated, type 1 diabetes can lead to several complications such as diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease), diabetic retinopathy (damage to the retina of the eye) and neuropathy (nerve damage). Since type 1 diabetes is caused due to a lack of insulin, insulin injections are used to normalize the blood sugar level.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 17, 2013

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