Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes because it typically develops during childhood or adolescence. There are early type 1 diabetes symptoms that you don't want to miss because if not detected and treated as soon as possible, it can cause a number of serious complications.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disorder that disrupts the way your body utilizes glucose or sugar. Every cell in your body needs sugar in order to properly function. And in order for sugar to enter those cells, it needs a hormone called insulin. Insulin acts like a key that unlocks the cell so that sugar or glucose can get in. Now, if you don't have enough insulin in your body, then you don't have enough keys to open the cells and your cells can't function properly. So the sugar does not get into the cells, instead, it remains in the bloodstream and you get high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. This is what happens in diabetes.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 Diabetes is a chronic illness in which an individual does not produce enough insulin to process the glucose in their blood. It's usually due to the cells that produce insulin being destroyed.
Insulin is produced in cells in your pancreas called beta cells. And your pancreas is that organ that's kind of right on the upper part of your abdomen, kind of right under your chest, and the beta cells produce the insulin. In diabetes mellitus type 1, there's the destruction of these insulin-producing cells, and they're usually destroyed by autoantibodies.
Now, what do I mean by autoantibodies? I mean, antibodies that your body produces, but instead of the antibodies doing what they're supposed to do, which is to fight germs, to fight bacteria, and all of the things that can infect you, instead, these antibodies turn on you and they attack your body. In this case, they attack your beta cells. The cells that produce insulin, kind of like an autobiography is a book that you write about yourself, autoantibodies attack yourself, unfortunately, and this is what happens in type 1 diabetes.
Once these autoantibodies destroy enough of your cells that produce insulin, you no longer have enough keys to open up the cells, so sugar cannot get into the cells and you have diabetes mellitus type 1, a disruption in the way you utilize glucose.
Now, most people who have diabetes actually have diabetes type 2, only 10% of diabetic patients are type 1 diabetics. But because diabetes mellitus type 1, mostly affects young children and adolescents, it's key that everyone who's around children understands how to detect it. So if you are a parent, grandparent, auntie, teacher, anyone who's around young children or adolescents, this information will be helpful to you.
7 Early Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms
1. Excessive Urination or Polyuria
This just means that you're urinating more frequently and you're actually having a larger volume of urine. When your body is not able to process glucose properly, when that insulin is low and the glucose can not get into the cells, well, now you have an excessive amount of sugar in the bloodstream, and this sugar can also flow into the urine.
When this sugar is in the urine, guess what? Water follows the sugar, and that causes you to make more urine, a greater volume. And it makes the person with diabetes type 1 actually have polyuria. Here's what's interesting, not only will you be using the restroom more frequently during the day, but people with type 1 diabetes may also have nocturia, or they may have to get up many times at night to urinate.
Another key, is if you're dealing with a child who at one point has been potty trained, and now all of a sudden that child is wetting the bed again, that could be a huge warning sign that the child has type 1 diabetes. We call this secondary enuresis, meaning your child was potty trained, they weren't using the restroom in the bed at night, they did not have enuresis, but now all of a sudden they've developed secondary enuresis. If you are dealing with someone who is urinating very frequently, this could be a warning sign of type 1 diabetes.
2. Excessive Thirst, Or Polydipsia
If you are dealing with a child or adolescent, who's all of a sudden drinking a lot of water, like insatiable, always thirsty, that could be a warning sign of type 1 diabetes. Just like we discussed, if you have type 1 diabetes, you may have that polyuria where you're urinating all the time. Well, that can be dehydrating, and so what happens, you're going to drink. And the more you drink, the more you urinate and so it's just an ongoing cycle. So please, if you have a child, an adolescent, or anyone who is having polydipsia where they're thirsty all the time, and never satisfied, this could be a symptom of type 1 diabetes.
3. Excessive Hunger
Another warning sign of type 1 diabetes can be excessive hunger. Diabetes is a disruption in the proper way you utilize your glucose or your sugar.
What happens, is that when you don't have enough insulin and that sugar is not getting into the cells or the cells aren't getting the energy they need to function, you feel tired and hungry. And so if you don't have energy, if you can't process the glucose, then your body is going to be hungry or starved. And so a person with type 1 diabetes, maybe always hungry, always eating, but guess what? They're not gaining weight, in fact, they may actually be losing weight, because, in type 1 diabetes, you have that lack of insulin, and you will end up getting an excess of glucagon and glucagon can lead to the breakdown effect.
4. Fruity Breath
Yes, fruity breath can also be a warning sign of type 1 diabetes and this can be due to diabetic ketoacidosis. When you have low insulin and high glucagon, and you're breaking down fat that can lead to the production of something called ketones. And these ketones can lead to your body being in an acidic state, meaning very acid-like low pH. And this is called diabetic ketoacidosis. Diabetic because of the high blood sugar, keto, the excess ketones from the fat breakdown, and acidosis, because your pH is low.
When this happens, this can lead to an abnormal smell of the breath that's almost a fruity odor. So really pay attention.
In addition to that diabetic ketoacidosis causing that fruity odor of the breath, it can also cause some abnormal breathing where you have really rapid, deep breaths. That's because a child is trying to blow off that excess acid. And so really deep rapid breathing could be another warning sign. Also, that child could have abdominal pain or even confusion. So if you have a kid who is having some of these symptoms, and now they're not doing as well in school as normal, they're not concentrating, they're kind of out of sorts, all of this should make you think type 1 diabetes.
5. Tingling of the Fingers and Toes
This is very important because one of the complications of diabetes mellitus type 1 is peripheral neuropathy or diabetic neuropathy, where the nerves in your fingers and your toes are actually affected and they can cause tingling.
Make sure that you pay attention if you're dealing with this child, adolescent, young adult, or anyone who's having these symptoms and they're letting you know, "I don't have that much feeling in my toes". Or "I feel a pins and needles sensation in my fingers". The worse thing about this peripheral neuropathy or this diabetic neuropathy is that if the person with diabetes mellitus type 1 has this tingling of the fingers and toes, and they get the numbness of the feet and if they've walked around barefooted, then they could step on things that can cause wounds in the feet, but they won't feel it. This can lead to infection or sores in the feet and people with diabetes type 1 will often have poor wound healing.
And so if they're walking around, they may have this wound festering in the foot and they don't feel it, and it won't get treated, it can get worse and ultimately this can lead to limb amputations. And so you want to catch things early. If you're dealing with someone who's complaining of numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes, this indeed is one of the early type 1 diabetes symptoms.
Fatigue can definitely be an early warning sign of diabetes mellitus type 1 and after everything that I've talked about, you can see why. If you are having improper processing of your glucose and you don't have energy, then you're going to be tired.
Also, if you have this polyuria if you're getting up at night to urinate all the time, and you keep running to the restroom, that can disrupt your sleep and cause you to be fatigued. So while fatigue is kind of a non-specific symptom that can happen in a lot of disorders, make sure you pay attention. And if they're having this fatigue, despite getting a proper amount of sleep, it can be an early warning sign.
7. Nausea And Vomiting
If your child has diabetes mellitus type 1, and that insulin is extremely low, and now they have diabetic ketoacidosis, that acidotic state, that acidemia can actually cause them to have vomiting. And the vomiting can be quite severe, it can lead them to have dry heaves, once they vomit out pretty much everything in their system and it can even cause them to get tears in their GI system, in the gastrointestinal system, specifically the esophagus, that tube between the throat and the stomach.
Type 1 Diabetes Treatment and Management
You definitely want to consult your physician. If you're dealing with a child you want to consult the pediatrician and that pediatrician will likely refer your child to an endocrinologist, a specialist who deals with diabetes.
Because type 1 diabetes is due to a lack of insulin, the mainstay in the treatment is going to be giving insulin. There are all types of technologies that have made the giving of insulin much better. There are even insulin pumps, meaning that the patient can actually attach the insulin pumps to the body. The glucose can be monitored and the insulin can be given, while the child or adolescent moves about with their activities.
Diet is going to be a very important part of managing diabetes. You want to make sure that there is carbohydrate control. You're going to have to learn to count carbs and a nutrition consult is recommended.
Exercise and regular physical activity is an important part of the management program and then also psychosocial support. There's a lot that goes into having diabetes, and there can be a lot of psychological stress.
You will want to consult your physician and you may need some therapy, counseling, or group therapy with other people who are also going through the diagnosis of diabetes mellitus type 1.
Understanding the diagnosis is key. You definitely want to understand all of the potential complications and have an open dialogue with your physician or your pediatrician. Diabetes can lead to kidney failure. And so you want to make sure those kidney numbers are watched so that you know if you need to go to a nephrologist, a heart doctor, or to a hematologist.
A part of diabetes management is understanding your own disease, so you can be your own advocate. I discussed that diabetes mellitus type 1 mostly occurs in young children and adolescents, but it can also occur in adults.
If you notice any of these early type 1 diabetes symptoms, make sure to contact your doctor immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are key for preventing further complications with the disease. Remember that type 1 diabetes can be managed through diet, exercise, medication, or insulin therapy.