What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is a disease where the body cannot produce insulin, a hormone that is essential for processing carbohydrates in food. Although it can occur at any age, it usually develops in childhood. Type 1 affects more than 120,000 people in Australia.
Type 1 in an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system suddenly starts to recognise the body's own cells - in this case, the beta cells which produce insulin - as 'enemies', and destroys them. When the beta cells are destroyed, the body can no longer produce insulin. Insulin has a very important job in the body; it is responsible for turning glucose (which enters the bloodstream when a person eats carbohydrates) into energy. A person diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is left dependent on injected insulin for the rest of their lives, and must manage their blood glcuose levels around-the-clock.
Type 1 diabetes is not preventable. The cause of type 1 diabetes is not known, although we know that it occurs in people with a certain genetic makeup.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 is not lifestyle driven.
Symptoms of type 1
Type 1 diabetes symptoms can include:
- Extreme thirst
- Constant hunger
- Sudden weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Extreme tiredness
If you think you or someone you know has these symptoms, seek medical help immediately, and drink sugar-free fluids to prevent dehydration.
Treating type 1
People with type 1 diabetes must keep their blood glucose level as close to the non-diabetic range as possible to avoid the risks associated with glucose levels that are too high or too low. This is not easy. Think about it like this: people with type 1 must do the job of their pancreas, an extremely fine-tuned and highly sensitive system, manually!
To stay alive, people with type 1 diabetes must have a constant supply of insulin through injections or an insulin pump. They also must test their blood sugar by pricking their fingers for a drop of blood to enter into a machine at least four times a day. Finally, people with type 1 must constantly count the carbohydrates in food in order to match their insulin dose to the food they are eating, and regulate the effects of physcial activity, sleep, stress, and a number of other factors that impact blood glucose levels.
Type 1 diabetes is one of the only conditions whereby the person living with it must make the decisions about how much of their medication (insulin) to take and when to take it. The consequences of a mistake can be devastating, and the burden of responsibility for management is profound.
Managing type 1
At the Family Centre, we believe that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing type 1. Instead, we know that it is important to work with your goals and preferences to tailor management strategies. We call this approach 'adaptive management', and encourage people with type 1 to seek answers from both their health practitioners and the type 1 community in order to develop individualised management approaches.
In Western Australia, children and adolescents with type 1 are seen by the Diabetes Team at Princess Margaret Hospital. Adults can be seen in public hospital diabetes clinics, or privately through specialist endocrinology clinics. Your support team should consist of a combination of the following:
- Diabetes educator
- Social worker
Children with type 1 are advised to attend clinic four times per year, where they receive a health-check up and have the opportunity to discuss management strategies with the team. Adults may be advised to attend a diabetes check up between three and four times per year.
Mindset and motivation
Type 1 can be unpredictable, complicated and frustrating. At the Family Centre, we recognise that managing type 1 is more that getting the technical side right - it's also about staying emotionally well. Thinking positively, connecting with peers, employing healthy coping strategies, and being able to recognise the symptoms of diabetes distress or burnout are all important aspects of staying emotionally well with type 1.
It's not all about the patient, either. Type 1 affects every member of the patient's support network, and families, partners, friends, employers and schools need support too.
That's where the Family Centre comes in. Our programs and services aim to support people with diabetes and their networks to handle type 1 in healthy, positive ways. Explore our website to see what we can offer you.