About type-1 diabetes

In type-1 diabetes, the pancreas makes little or no insulin.

This is a problem because insulin is a hormone that normally helps turn glucose into energy for the body. Glucose is the simplest form of sugar and the body’s main source of energy.

When the body can’t turn glucose into energy, glucose builds up in blood. This is the high blood sugar that most people think of when they hear about diabetes. High blood sugar creates a lot of health problems unless it’s treated.

Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. ‘Autoimmune’ means the body attacks itself. In type-1 diabetes, the body attacks the cells in the pancreas that make insulin and this stops the cells from working. Type-1 diabetes is different from type-2 diabetes, which is often linked to lifestyle factors.

Signs and symptoms of type-1 diabetes

The symptoms of type-1 diabetes usually develop suddenly over a period of days – or sometimes hours. They can develop over weeks too.

Early signs and symptoms of type-1 diabetes include:

  • frequent urination and/or bed-wetting in your previously ‘dry’ child
  • increased thirst and the desire to drink more than usual
  • weight loss
  • tiredness
  • mood changes or increased irritability
  • blurred vision.

Some other possible signs or symptoms include:

You might also notice your child not doing as well as usual at school, because he isn’t feeling well.

If early symptoms of type-1 diabetes aren’t picked up and treated, or diabetes comes on quickly, your child might also experience nauseavomiting and tummy pain.

When there’s high sugar in the blood, the kidneys try to flush it out in urine. This why children with type-1 diabetes might be urinating more. And because the body is making lots of urine to try to get rid of the sugar, it’s also using and losing lots of water. This is why children can get dehydrated.

Does your child need to see a doctor about type-1 diabetes symptoms?

Yes. If your child has any of the symptoms of type-1 diabetes, see your GP.

A child with type-1 diabetes can become very unwell very quickly. Call 000 for an ambulance if you notice any of the following symptoms in your child:

  • panting
  • confusion
  • drowsiness.

These symptoms might point to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. It can be life-threatening, so your child needs immediate medical attention.

Tests for type-1 diabetes

Your GP can diagnose diabetes in your child by doing a finger-prick blood test and a urine test, and by looking at your child’s symptoms.

If there’s glucose in your child’s urine and/or a high level of glucose in his blood, your GP will send your child to your nearest emergency department.

If your GP doesn’t diagnose diabetes, and you’re still worried about your child or her symptoms are getting worse, go to your nearest emergency department.

Treatment for type-1 diabetes

There is currently no cure for type-1 diabetes.

If your child has type-1 diabetes, he can manage his condition successfully and live a normal life by keeping his blood sugar levels within a target range. Your child can keep his blood sugar within this target range by:

  • injecting insulin 2-4 times a day or by using a 24-hour insulin pump
  • eating certain foods in the right amounts and at the right times
  • doing physical activity.

Your child will have a team of diabetes health professionals to care for her. These professionals usually include paediatric endocrinologists, diabetes nurse educators, dietitianssocial workers and psychologists. They’ll show you and your child how to best manage her diabetes by:

  • teaching you and your child how to measure your child’s blood sugar
  • explaining what to do when the blood sugar goes outside the target range
  • teaching you and your child how to inject insulin or use an insulin pump
  • teaching you and your child about healthy eating and exercise
  • talking about your child’s diagnosis and ongoing treatment.

Preventing complications from type-1 diabetes

You can lower your child’s risk of complications from type-1 diabetes by keeping your child’s blood sugar levels within the target range most of the time.

High blood sugar levels can lead to short-term complications like diabetic ketoacidosis as well as long-term complications like nerve damage, kidney damage, vision problems, heart disease or stroke.

Low blood sugar levels can lead to drowsiness, aggression, unconsciousness or seizure.

Causes of type-1 diabetes

We don’t know what triggers type-1 diabetes, although genes play a role. Viruses, puberty, rapid growth and stress might also be triggers.

Over 90% of children and teenagers with diabetes have type-1 diabetes. Type-1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in children aged 10-14 years and rarely in children under one year.