What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly damages and destroys insulin-producing cells, called beta cells, making it difficult for the body to manage blood sugar levels. Symptoms of T1D develop slowly and are often mild or non-specific. A simple blood test can help you understand if you or your loved ones are at risk of developing T1D.

  • Signs and symptoms of T1D can be difficult to detect. People with diabetes may have mild symptoms, and some common symptoms can include:

    • Frequent urination (or unexpected bed-wetting in children)
    • Increased thirst
    • Feeling hungry or weight loss, despite eating
    • Extreme fatigue and weakness
    • Blurry vision
    • Slow healing of cuts/bruises
  • People living with T1D do not produce insulin or have at least some insulin impairment. People with type 2 diabetes (T2D) don’t respond well to insulin and, in later stages, may not produce enough insulin. T1D was historically referred to as juvenile diabetes, but current research shows that T1D can develop at any age, not just in childhood.

  • Insulin is an important hormone that allows cells in the body to absorb glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood and use it for energy. Without insulin, blood sugar levels rise. High blood sugar levels over time can eventually damage the heart, kidneys, eyes, nerves and blood vessels. People living with type 1 diabetes need lifelong insulin therapy to manage their blood sugar levels along with a carefully controlled diet, regular exercise, and frequent blood sugar monitoring.

  • Family history and genetic factors are thought to be associated with T1D. If you have a first- or second-degree family member living with T1D, you may be at risk and should ask your healthcare provider about testing. If you have T1D, your family members should be screened. The American Diabetes Association provides additional information about the genetics of diabetes.

  • To help determine if you have type 1 diabetes, your doctor may offer the Labcorp Diabetes Autoimmune Profile, a simple blood test that detects antibodies that are associated with type 1 diabetes. Results are typically returned within 1-2 weeks and 65% of people have no out-of-pocket costs for the test after insurance processes the claim.

  • Increased blood sugar levels can lead to life-threatening diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). DKA is a serious condition that can lead to decreased blood sugar control, a diabetic coma, or even death. The earlier a doctor can diagnose T1D, the better the chance of preventing DKA from occurring.

  • If you or a family member have T1D, there is an increased risk for developing other autoimmune diseases. Ask your doctor if they recommend testing for thyroid diseases as well as celiac disease.

  • Beyond your primary care provider and endocrinologist, you can get information from many active resource groups online—such as JDRF, Taking Control of your Diabetes (TCOYD) and Beyond Type 1. You can also ask your healthcare provider if any upcoming clinical trials, which are studying new treatments, would be appropriate for you or your family members living with T1D.