Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a condition where your body can't produce enough insulin - a hormone which regulates your blood sugar levels by allowing glucose to be absorbed into your cells for use or storage. It’s also known as Type 1 diabetes mellitus.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition and often starts in childhood. It affects around one in 10 people in the UK who have diabetes – that’s around 400,000 people.

Glucose gives you energy and helps your body function. When it can’t be absorbed into your body's cells, it just builds up in your bloodstream. It can make you feel exhausted and cause other long-term health problems. These include damage to your heart, eyes, feet and kidneys.

There is also a risk of serious acute health problems, such as:

  • Hypos – when your blood sugar becomes too low
  • Hypers – when blood sugar is too high
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis – a build-up of substances called ketones in your blood

Although it can’t be cured, your diabetes symptoms can be managed by monitoring your blood glucose levels and regularly injecting insulin.

How to tell if you have type 1 diabetes

Signs of diabetes include feeling very tired and extremely thirsty. You might also need to urinate more than usual, especially at night. Other Type 1 diabetes symptoms include:

If you’re worried about your symptoms, you should arrange to see your GP as soon as possible.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Diagnosis and tests for type 1 diabetes

Your GP will talk to you about your symptoms and carry out blood tests to check your glucose levels. These may include:

  • Fasting blood sugar test (after you’ve gone without food overnight)
  • Glycated haemoglobin (A1C) test to check average blood sugar levels over the past few months
  • Random blood sugar test to check your glucose levels

If the tests show you have diabetes, your GP may carry out more tests to identify whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

Causes of type 1 diabetes

It’s not known exactly why you get Type 1 diabetes. It happens when your immune system, which usually fights disease, attacks cells in your pancreas so they can’t produce any insulin.

You may be more likely to get it if you’re an identical twin or if you have a family history of it.

Common treatments for type 1 diabetes

It’s important to get treatment as soon as possible. It can help manage your symptoms and avoid the risk of serious, life-threatening events and long-term health problems.

Your GP will explain how to regularly monitor your blood glucose levels to keep them as healthy as possible. They will show you how to inject insulin into your body or use an insulin pump. They may also prescribe other medication to control your symptoms. You may need to make some changes to your diet and lifestyle.