Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas is unable to make the hormone insulin. Insulin acts like a key to open cells and let glucose enter from the blood.The glucose comes from the food we eat and gives us energy.

Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children and young adults, but can occur at any age. Only 10 to 15 out of 100 people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. This means the body's own immune system destroys the cells that make insulin.

What is the cause of type 1 diabetes?

We don't yet know the exact cause. A person will only develop type 1 diabetes if they:

  • Have genes for type 1 diabetes and
  • Are exposed to a trigger such as a viral infection
What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

Symptoms of high blood glucose levels such as:

  • Thirst
  • Tiredness
  • Going to the toilet a lot to pass urine
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling unwell
  • Being dehydrated

Ketones can develop in the body if type 1 diabetes isn't diagnosed early enough. When the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin, glucose can't get into the cells of the muscles. The body then breaks down fat for energy, which produces ketones. A build-up of ketones in the blood is toxic and can lead to Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). This is very serious and needs to be treated urgently in hospital.

Signs of DKA:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Deep, fast breathing
  • Fruity smelling breath
  • Drowsiness
How is type 1 diabetes treated?

The treatment of type 1 diabetes is insulin. Insulin can't be given in tablet form, so people with type 1 diabetes must have insulin injections every day to live. Insulin can also be given by an insulin pump which delivers insulin to just below the skin.The goal is to keep blood glucose levels as close to the normal range as possible. This helps reduce long term complications.

This can be achieved by:

  • Having insulin via injections or pump
  • Balancing insulin doses with the amount of carbohydrate eaten and physical activity
  • Monitoring blood glucose

At this stage type 1 diabetes can't be prevented or cured, although there is a great deal of research being done.

Type 1 diabetes statistics
  • There are over 118,000 people in Australia living with type 1 diabetes
  • More than 50 per cent of people develop type 1 diabetes as adults
  • 80 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes have no family history of the condition
  • Type 1 diabetes can run in families with an eight per cent risk for brothers, sisters and children also getting type 1 diabetes