(Previously called Juvenile Diabetes.) We were talking in class just yesterday – what exactly is type 1 diabetes and what causes it? What signs & symptoms can you expect? Type 1 diabetes is becoming much more common and it’s something that parents, teachers child-minders and others need to be aware of.

What’s the problem?

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition, which seems to be on the increase. More specifically research has found a 30% increase in type 1 diabetes (between 1984 and 2005) in our children. Worse still, when specific research was done, they found a 70% increase in the rate of type 1 diabetes in children 4 years old and under. (Specifically, in Philadelphia between 2000 and 2004.)

“Whether you look at Europe, Canada, Australia or the U.S., type 1 diabetes in youth is increasing. And some of the largest increases are in the youngest age group,” said Dr. Richard Insel chief scientific officer for JDRF (previously the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation).

What is type 1 diabetes?

Diabetes is an imbalance of blood sugar and insulin. Normally when we eat, insulin helps the food to become energy. If there isn’t enough insulin, then sugar levels in a person’s blood start to rise – which isn’t good for them. It means they’re not getting the energy they need from food, and the sugar will also do harm.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys those cells which produce insulin. For this reason, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin in order to stay alive. Type 1 diabetes is generally diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults (which is why it used to be known as Juvenile Diabetes). Causes are not really know, but genetics, environment and your own immune system may be involved.

English: Diagram shows insulin release from th...

English: Diagram shows insulin release from the Pancreas and how this lowers blood sugar leves. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why is type 1 diabetes different (from type 2)?

  • It usually occurs in children.
  • They will need life-long treatment (diet and exercise won’t ‘cure’ them)
  • They will always need insulin – by pump or injection
  • To balance their food, insulin and exercise, they will need to eat healthily and consistently, exercise appropriately and monitor blood sugar levels regularly – sometimes 6 or more tests a day.
  • So in children, they’ll need your help!

What are the signs & symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

The signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes of course can be related to the cause:

  • Extreme thirst (because there is too much sugar in the blood and their body wants to dilute that)
  • Frequent urination – because of the above thirst
  • Sugar in urine and sweet-smelling breath (all that sugar has to go somewhere)
  • Drowsy & tired (the sugar isn’t being used for energy properly)
  • Eventually unconsciousness.

Signs & Symptoms of type 1 diabetes for First Aiders

Usually we won’t notice those symptoms – unless in our own children or those we know well. The symptoms above (usually) take time to come on and aren’t a reason to seek first aid. If we need to look after diabetics as first aiders, usually it’s because their sugar is too low. Perhaps because they’ve had too much insulin, not eaten properly, exercised too much or have another illness. They signs and symptoms and more information can be found in this post.

What is the first aid treatment?

For newly developing type 1 diabetes – nothing. This one needs a doctor! Just be aware of the signs and symptoms in case you need to know.
For someone with type 1 diabetes who now has low blood sugar – give sugar! This can be glucose tablets, candy, chocolate, just about most sweet things. Just not the ‘diet’ stuff – artificial sweeteners won’t help.

Other facts about Type 1 diabetes

Yes, it used to be called ‘Juvenile Diabetes’ – but it can come on at any time of life, which is why the term ‘Juvenile diabetes’ is loosing favour. Still it is most typically diagnosed in children.
There’s no reason for people with diabetes to not eat sweets – they just need to balance this with the correct insulin/exercise. ‘Diabetic chocolate’ is just a good way to get you to part with your cash.
“Diabetic people should not exercise/play sports/be athletic” – actually, everyone should exercise. They just need to be aware of their sugar intake too.
“You get it from eating sugar” – not really. Sugar has just about nothing to do with the causes of type 1 diabetes, and is only ‘associated with’ or a ‘trigger’ for type 2.