What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Web Resource Last Updated: 09-05-2024

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition. Normally, the pancreas (a gland near the stomach) releases a hormone called insulin in response to eating starchy foods. Insulin allows the glucose (sugar) from food to enter our cells where it is converted into fuel for energy. Diabetes occurs when the body can't make insulin; the glucose cannot enter the cells and levels increase in the blood. Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s immune system attacking and destroying the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. This process is called an ‘auto-immune disease. It is not a result of poor diet or related to lifestyle.

The cause is at present unknown and there is nothing that can be done to prevent anyone from getting type 1 diabetes. Scientists have identified certain genes that increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes, but research is also being carried out into other contributing factors, e.g. environmental triggers such as viral illness and toxins.

Approximately 10% of people living with diabetes in the UK have type 1 diabetes. It is usually diagnosed in childhood or young adulthood but can develop at any age.

The vast majority (90%) of people with type 1 diabetes have no family history of diabetes, and therefore the risk of other members of the family developing the condition is low.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes

The main symptoms of untreated type 1 diabetes are:

  • Increased thirst
  • Going to the toilet all the time, especially at night
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Genital itching or regular episodes of thrush
  • Blurred vision
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Changes to breathing

People with undiagnosed or poorly controlled type 1 diabetes will have significant weight loss because of

  • Fluid loss (they will be passing glucose in their urine)
  • Losing fat and muscle tissue as the body will be using this as an alternative energy source

If you have type 1 diabetes you will need injections of insulin for the rest of your life. Insulin cannot be taken orally, e.g. in tablet form, because it is destroyed by the digestive juices in the stomach.

Insulin regimens are tailored to meet the individual needs of each person. This is why some people may need two injections per day and others may need four or more. Insulin is not a cure for diabetes but it is a very successful treatment.

For more information on type 1 diabetes see:


For further support, have a look at the NHS page on type 1 diabetes.

To order a free '100 things I wish I'd known about living with diabetes' ebook from Diabetes UK please click here.