How Does Type 1 Diabetes Affect Your Brain?

Many tools and tips can help you control your type 1 diabetes. But left unchecked, it can affect several organs, including your brain. Big spikes and dips in blood sugar levels are linked to depression, shortened attention spans, and slowed reaction times, both physically and mentally.

More research needs to be done for experts to figure out the exact short-term and long-term effects of diabetes on the brain -- but they're hopeful that they’ll find ways to prevent and even reverse damage.

How High Blood Sugar Affects Children

A 2014 study published by the American Diabetes Association shows that really high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can slow the growth of a brain as it develops. The same is true when a child’s levels swing up and down a lot.

Brain scans show differences between a child with diabetes and one without. Still researchers found no major differences in their IQs, mood, behavior, and learning and memory skills. It’s still unknown if the disease can affect things like their muscle movements and how fast they process information.

How It Affects Adults

Adults who’ve had type 1 for a long time have slower physical and mental reactions. The condition doesn’t seem to impact a person’s learning and thinking skills, researchers say. But memory and attention span can be affected.

Type 1, like type 2, is linked with a high rate of depression. High blood sugar levels and the stress of managing a long-term disease are to blame.

What Can You Do?

The best defense is to control your blood sugar, eat a healthy diet, and follow all of your doctor’s instructions.  

The longer your levels stay really high or low, or swing to extremes, the more likely your brain will be affected. Continuous glucose monitors are a great tool, since they measure blood sugar every 5 minutes.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on March 16, 2017

Sources

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National Institutes of Health: “Chronic High Blood Sugar May Be Detrimental to the Developing Brain of Young Children.”

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