Type 1 Diabetes – Overview
Diabetes mellitus Type I was originally called Juvenile Diabetes because it almost always occurred in children. Unlike Diabetes Mellitus type II which will be discussed later, it is an auto immune disease in which the cells that produce insulin are destroyed. While the destruction process of these beta cells( which are housed in the pancreas) can take many years, the symptoms come on suddenly. By the time the person has symptoms, from high blood sugar, he has almost no insulin. When this happens, the person’s blood sugar rises to very high levels, and the individual suddenly feels extremely ill. Insulin is also needed to keep fat cells from breaking down. While the body requires very little insulin to keep fat cells from breaking down, people with type I diabetes have no or almost no insulin. As fat cells break down into fatty acids, they produce ketone bodies. People with type I diabetes are often initially diagnosed in this state which is called ketoacidosis. (see below).
There are about 3 million people with Type 1 Diabetes in the United States. Because they cannot produce insulin by themselves, they must administer insulin to themselves for the rest of their lives. Because insulin will be broken down by the stomach, insulin has to be administered by injection. The oral agents (pills) which people may read about are not effective for type I diabetes. Before insulin was discovered in 1929 a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes was akin to a death sentence. When it was initially discovered, it enabled many people to live longer and more productive lives. As their lifespans increased, doctors, scientists, and patients, all learned about the complications related to this disease. At the present time, people with Diabetes are advised to control their blood sugar to levels as close to normal as possible in order to avoid these complications.