What is Type 1 Diabetes (T1D)?

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition where the body produces little or no insulin. This is generally a result of the immune system attacking the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Other possible causes of T1D include the environment, genetic factors and exposure to viruses. Insulin is a natural hormone that helps glucose enter the body’s cells to be used as the main source of energy. Glucose is a form of sugar, which the body uses as fuel. Glucose is provided by certain types of foods, and it can also be generated by the liver when those food sources are limited. After eating foods rich in carbohydrates, glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream. However, glucose cannot enter the body’s cells without the help of insulin. If there is not enough insulin, glucose begins to build up in the blood stream. When the level of blood sugar rises, the body signals the beta cells to release insulin. This hormone works by transporting glucose to the body tissue where it is stored or used for energy. This helps to keep high blood sugar levels within a normal range. In people with T1D, this process does not function properly as they do not produce insulin. Because of this, people with T1D may experience high blood sugar levels. If left untreated, high blood sugar levels can result in diabetes complications like nerve damage, kidney problems or blindness. Hence, people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin therapy so that they can survive. The signs and symptoms of T1D can appear suddenly and may include the following:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Weaknessand fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Irritability

Long term complications include:

Kidney damage

This condition usually happens in people who have high blood pressure and diabetes. In case the small blood vessel in the kidney becomes leaky and blocked, your kidneys may become less efficient. In rare cases, this may result in kidney failure, requiring a kidney transplant or dialysis.

Nerve damage

High blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels in the nerves. This may result in burning pain or tingling feelings that spread from the toes and fingers through the limbs. This can cause numbness that leads to feet ulcers. If the nerves in the digestive system are affected, it could lead to diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and constipation.

Foot problems

If the nerves in the foot are damaged and cuts go unnoticed, it may result in foot ulcers. Research shows that about one in ten people with diabetes have a risk of getting foot ulcers. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, you can look out for signs such as cuts and sores that do not heal properly, or at all.


Retinopathy refers to the damage of the retina, which is an eye complication that tends to affect people with diabetes. The retina requires constant blood supply that is received by small blood vessels. With time, a persistently high blood glucose can damage the blood vessels which affects your vision. It is important you control your blood glucose levels so that you can prevent the risk of eye problems.

Short term complications include:


Hyperglycemia is a medical condition characterized by extremely high blood sugar levels. There are many reasons which may contribute to hyperglycemia. Missed doses of medication that are used to treat type 1 diabetes can cause high blood sugar levels. Diet can also be a cause for high blood sugar levels, as foods rich in carbohydrates can cause spikes in blood sugar. If you think you have high blood glucose levels, it is important you check your blood glucose immediately. In case you experience high blood glucose multiple times per week, you should go and see your doctor immediately. It is important you know the symptoms of hyperglycemia, so that you can bring your blood sugar levels back to a normal range if necessary.

Symptoms of hyperglycemia include the following:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Problems concentrating
  • Unusual hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating

You can treat mild hyperglycemia by taking your medication, as prescribed by your doctor. Severe hyperglycemia is considered a medical emergency. If left untreated, severe hyperglycemia can lead to coma or death. Seek medical attention immediately if you believe you may be experiencing severely high blood sugar levels.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious, life-threatening condition caused by a deficiency in insulin. This condition occurs as a result of buildup of acid in the bloodstream. Diabetic ketoacidosis can happen when the body does not receive insulin for long periods of time, causing it to look for alternative sources of energy. Because the cells in your body cannot use the glucose in the bloodstream for energy without insulin, it may begin to burn fat for energy instead. That sounds great at first, but when fat is burned as the main source of energy, it produces acids known as ketones. If this process continues for a long time, and ketones begin building up, you may begin to experence the symptoms of ketoacidosis. For some people, this could appear as a first sign of diabetes. Diabetic ketoacidosis can occur in people with type 1 diabetes who are not consistently using insulin therapy. It may also occur as a result of infection or acute illness that makes it difficult for people to manage their diabetes. The level of ketones can also rise when you skip a meal, when you are stressed or as a result of a reaction to certain insulins. The good news is that diabetic ketoacidosis can be treated. If you notice symptoms such as frequent urination, dry mouth or excessive thirst, you should test your ketone levels. You can also test your ketone levels when your blood glucose is over 240 mg/dl. You can check your ketone levels using a urine test strip. Try to reduce your blood glucose levels and test your ketones again within 30 minutes. If this does not work, call your doctor immediately. You should visit an emergency room immediately if you notice the following symptoms:

  • You begin having fruity or bad-smelling breath
  • You feel pain in your abdomen
  • You experience vomiting for more than two hours
  • You experience difficulty breathing
  • You are feeling tired or confused

The treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis involves taking insulin with an IV to try and reduce the ketones while optimizing fluids to bring the blood chemistry back to balance. If left untreated, this condition could lead to coma or even death.

Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.