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Diabetes Health Center

Illustrated Guide to Type 1 Diabetes

Definition

Diabetes is a disease that causes an abnormally high level of sugar, or glucose, to build up in the blood. Type 1 diabetes -- previously labeled insulin-dependent, or juvenile diabetes -- is caused by the destruction of cells in the pancreas (an organ located just behind the stomach) that produce the hormone insulin.


Symptoms

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes develop from a lack of insulin. Insulin allows glucose to enter the cells of the body and not build up in the blood stream. A person with untreated type 1 diabetes may appear quite ill and complain of increased thirst, urination, and appetite as well as weight loss. If these symptoms are not treated quickly, a condition known as ketoacidosis can develop and lead to a dangerously high level of acid in the body -- the result of the body's inability to use glucose for energy.


Lack of Insulin Production

Insulin is a hormone that is produced by specialized cells (beta cells) in the pancreas. The hormone is then released into the bloodstream where it is carried to all cells in the body. Insulin is required to allow glucose (sugar) to enter the cells in the body to be used for energy. The pancreas of a person with type 1 diabetes produces almost no insulin, so the cells of the body are unable to convert blood glucose into energy.


Who's at Risk?

Type 1 diabetes affects about 1% of the population and accounts for about 10% of all people with diabetes. It is usually diagnosed in previously healthy children or young adults. It is one of the most common childhood diseases. About one child or adolescent in 500 in the U.S. has type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes occurs only about half as often in blacks and Asians as in whites.


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