Almost 300,000 Canadians have Type 1 diabetes, a condition in which the pancreas produces less or no insulin, resulting in high blood sugar. It is an autoimmune disorder where cells in the pancreas are mistakenly destroyed by the body’s immune cells. The body thus cannot produce insulin, a hormone that helps the body’s cells use glucose from the food you eat. When cells have enough glucose, the muscle tissues and liver store the excess glucose as glycogen. The body breaks glycogen into blood sugar and reaches the cells when they need energy between meals, while you sleep, or during exercise. As the body cells are unable to use glucose in Type 1 diabetes, it stays in the blood, resulting in high blood sugar levels. Long-term high blood sugar levels have detrimental effects on the body.

Type 1 Diabetes Causes

Type 1 diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune cells mistakenly destroy the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. The cause for the abnormal immune system is yet to be determined; however, research indicates it may result from a blend of an environmental trigger and a genetic predisposition. Till date, a virus is considered as the most likely trigger to alter the immune system.

Type 1 Diabetes Risk Factors

Some common risk factors, according to MayoClinic, are:

  • Genetics: Certain genes increase the risk of developing Type 1 diabetes.
  • Family history: A history of a sibling or a parent with Type 1 diabetes slightly increases the risk of getting Type 1 diabetes.
  • Age: Children between 4 and 7 years of age and 10 and 14 years of age have higher chances of having Type 1 diabetes. However, it can appear at any age.

Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms

The symptoms may not be present in everyone. When present they can be:

  • Increased thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Recurring infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Heavy, labored breathing
  • Bed-wetting in children who previously did not wet the bed
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Symptoms indicating emergency are:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fruity breath smell
  • Shaking

Type 1 diabetes treatment

As the body cannot make insulin, it needs to be injected to manage the blood sugar levels. Diet may also hold the potential to manage Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes Diet

Diet plays a crucial role in managing Type 1 diabetes. It is thus essential to understand how different foods can alter blood glucose levels. The glycemic index (GI) is used to rank different carbohydrate foods based on their effect on blood sugar levels. Foods ranking high on the GI scale should be avoided as they can cause a sudden spike in sugar levels. Some low GI foods beneficial for Type 1 diabetes are:

  • Whole wheat
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Almond milk
  • Greek yogurt
  • Lentils 
  • Beans

Exercise can also aid in managing Type 1 diabetes. But it is not as simple as it sounds and affects blood sugar levels. It is a great idea to talk to your doctor before initiating any exercise regimen.

Type 1 Diabetes Medications

Individuals with Type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day, usually through an injection. An insulin pump is also an alternative where the pump injects insulin through the skin, and it helps to level out blood sugar lows and highs. Some find the insulin pump better than injecting insulin.  The insulin requirement in Type 1 diabetes varies throughout the day and requires regular blood sugar monitoring using a glucose meter.

You can read on How to Choose and Use a Glucose Meter?

Diet and exercise also influence sugar levels and thus, insulin requirement. There are various types of insulin, but they all have the same effect. They work in a similar fashion as the natural insulin produced by the pancreas. However, the makeup of insulin influences how long and fast they work.

Some standard insulin types are:

  • Short-acting: The doctor will advise taking this insulin after a meal. Its actions start 30-60 minutes after injecting it and last for 5-8 hours.
  • Intermediate-acting: It starts working 1-2 hours after injecting it and lasts for 14-16 hours after injecting it.
  • Long-acting: This insulin works 2 hours after injection, and the action lasts for 24 hours or even longer.
  • Rapid-acting insulin: It starts its action within 15 minutes of injecting it, and the action lasts for 3-4 hours. The doctor usually advises to take it before a meal.
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Insulin requirement varies according to the diabetes management goals and blood sugar levels. The amount of insulin and time to inject depends on factors such as the severity of diabetes, diet, and physical activity. Some individuals may need just one insulin shot in a day, while others may need three or four. Furthermore, both long-acting and rapid-acting insulin may be prescribed by the doctor.

Injecting Insulin

The doctor or diabetes educator will educate you on giving injections to yourself. Insulin can be injected under the skin in different body parts, such as:

  • Abdomen
  • Buttocks
  • Upper arm
  • Thighs

Of note, insulin should not be injected within two inches of your belly button, as the absorption is not optimal. Additionally, different insulin locations are preferred to prevent thickening of the skin caused by continuous insulin exposure. 

It is crucial to be proactive while managing Type 1 diabetes. Eating healthy, exercising, and insulin may aid in managing this condition. Be sure to speak to the medical professional or doctor if you have any questions about medications, diet, or exercise prescribed to you.

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