What is Type 1 diabetes?


Note: This article is part of our library of resources for Forms of Diabetes. 

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic, autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. This attack leaves the pancreas with little or no ability to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Without insulin, sugar stays in the blood and can cause serious damage to organ systems, causing people to experience Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

Learn about the warning signs of T1D.

When we eat, our bodies break down complex carbohydrates into glucose, the fuel we need. The pancreas releases insulin that acts as a kind of key to unlock the cells, allowing glucose to enter and be absorbed. Without fuel, cells in the body cannot survive. In addition, excess glucose can make the bloodstream too acidic, resulting in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can be fatal if not treated. People with T1D must inject or pump insulin into their bodies every day to carefully regulate blood sugar.

Living with T1D is a full-time balancing act requiring constant attention to avoid acute, life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or the long-term damage done by hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Blood sugar levels must be monitored either with finger pricks or a continuous glucose monitor. Insulin doses must then be carefully calculated based upon activity and stress levels, food intake, illness and additional factors. These calculations are rarely perfect resulting in a tremendous emotional and mental burden for both patient and caregivers.

How do you get Type 1 diabetes?

T1D is neither preventable nor curable and while its cause is unknown, studies prove that T1D results from a genetic predisposition together with an environmental trigger.

There are two main types of diabetes:  

  • Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an incurable, auto-immune disease, not a lifestyle disease.  T1D accounts for roughly 10% of the more than 420 million global cases of diabetes, and people with Type 1 are insulin-dependent for life.  
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot properly use insulin, also known as “insulin-resistance,” and can often be treated through diet, exercise and medication.

Learn about Type 2 diabetes here and other forms of diabetes here.

Helpful Resources

Understanding Type 1 diabetes