What Is Type 1 Diabetes? Educating The Masses

Cazzy Magennis
Written By:
Cazzy Magennis
Last Updated:
April 18, 2021
There is a common theme in what people think causes diabetes…sugar. I'd like to clear up that little misconception- Diabetes has nothing to do with sugar.
Image of type 1 diabetes
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The question that many never seem to know the answer to….What is type 1 diabetes? 

Let’s start with a few questions and statements I constantly receive….

Did you eat too much sugar as a child? 

You can’t eat sweets and cake? 

Oh, so you just have to inject insulin once a day? 

Why don’t you just stop eating sugar and you won’t have it anymore?

Lets start by clearing the air ...

Cazzy with diabetes monitor
My FreeStyle Libre glucose monitor

What is type 1 diabetes exactly?

Type 1 diabetes is an incurable, auto-immune disease that is not a choice, you do nothing to cause it and you can do nothing to prevent it, which then makes it offensive when people make the sugar comments!

It affects about 10% of the diabetic population as a whole and is more commonly found in people aged below 40.

Type 1 diabetics can eat whatever they like as long as they can carbohydrate count, and being on an insulin pump can also increase your flexibly with food, but remember, no two diabetics are the same, so what one may eat, another may not- just like a normal person!

what is diabetes cartoon

What causes type 1 diabetes?

There is no current known cause for Type 1 diabetes- it is an auto immune disease which causes your immune system to attack the cells in your pancreas and therefore your pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin. It is not caused by poor diet or an unhealthy lifestyle and there is nothing you could have done to prevent type 1 diabetes.

There is little to no correlation between type 1 diabetes and parents, meaning it’s not hereditary in almost 90% of cases.

I want to quickly clear up the difference between diabetes type 1 and type 2 ...

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is mainly to do with your diet- not sugar, but fats, and you are at a higher risk with fat on a certain part of your body, your mid riff, so therefore it’s important to eat healthy, just like any human being should be!

Type 2 diabetes can usually be treated with careful exercise and diet plans along with medication- but some is caused by other factors, however type 1 diabetes can only be treated with insulin and there is no cure as well as no known cause.

What is the leading cause of Type 2 diabetes?

There are several causes of type 2 diabetes; however the leading causes of type 2 diabetes are genetics and lifestyle. These factors lead can lead to insulin resistance; some people with type 2 diabetes are insulin resistant and others don’t produce enough insulin to regulate the insulin in their blood which could be better described as an insulin deficiency.

  • Genetics - If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes it can increase your risk of developing it in the future, so it is important to look after yourself- however it goes not mean you are going to develop it.
  • Lifestyle - Lifestyle choices play a big role in your risk of Type 2 diabetes, including, lack of exercise, unhealthy eating habits and being overweight/obsess. So it is important to eat healthy, and eat junk food in moderation, exercise regularly and keeping your weight within a healthy range.
diabetes test strips
The test strips that I have to use up to 15 times a day!

Now let's get back to type 1 ...

What are the symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes?

Recognise the signs!

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent Urination
  • Mood swings/changes in mood
  • Blurred vision

There can be other signs but these are the most common. Consult your doctor if you or a loved one is presenting these symptoms!

What are the symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes?

  • Fatigue
  • Slow wound healing (or slow infection healing)
  • Increased appetite and thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Blurred vision

Type 2 Diabetes usually develops over time and you may live with it a long time before you are diagnosed - this leads to an increased risk in complications so it’s important to get regular health checks and make sure your lifestyle is a healthy one.

If Type 2 diabetes does run in your family, make sure you get checks ups as you get older. **There is an increasing case of Type 2 diabetes in children due to the obesity epidemic** 

I’ve been mentioning it a lot, but what is insulin exactly?

Insulin is a hormone that is created by the pancreas (a healthy one at least). It allows your body to extract sugar from the carbohydrates in your food, and in turn store this as energy. It then helps to stop your blood sugar from getting too low (hypoglycaemia) or too high (hyperglycaemia).

This leads us onto possible complications (Oh yay!)

Type 1 diabetes does not sleep- it is a 24/7 disease for the rest of your life- and if it isn’t controlled (which is not an easy task) it can lead to complications such as sight loss, limb loss, organ failure and death. Without insulin, you die, and it’s really that basic. Unfortunately for diabetics, everything can affect their blood sugar, not just food.

This includes stress, weather; emotions, altitude and climates, you name it and it can affect type 1 diabetics!

Diabetes supplies
Just a few of my many supplies

Other types of diabetes

  • Gestational Diabetes - This occurs when you have high blood glucose levels over a period of time during pregnancy. It usually develops in the third trimester (between 24 and 28 weeks) and typically disappears after the baby is born. However, women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later on in life. 
  • Brittle Diabetes - Brittle diabetes mellitus (or labile diabetes) is a term used to describe particularly hard to control type 1 diabetes.Those people who have brittle diabetes will experience frequent, extreme swings in blood sugar from low to high.
  • Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) - this is different from both Type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It is very rare with an estimated 20-40,000 people have MODY in the UK, that’s only 1-2%- because of its rarity; it is thought that doctors may not be aware of it and actually misdiagnose it with type 1 or type 2 first.

If you think you recognise any of these symptoms above in either yourself or a friend or family member, contact your doctor right away. Leaving it untreated may lead to complications including, Neuropath of the nerves and kidneys, eye damage, foot damage, and in severe cases, death. There are many support groups and informative pages to help you with diagnosis and information- get in touch if you’d like support in finding more information.

perito moreno glacier
Our recent trip to Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonian Argentina!

As a final note, I wanted to write this article to help people understand the serious nature of this condition and hopefully educate some people as to the harsh challenges type 1 diabetes can have on someone’s life. For many years I have battled with this illness and I know I will for many more years to come.

But with the support of my friends, family and most importantly those who share in my hardship I have fought through the tough times and have no desire to slow my life down or put my dreams on hold. Dream Big, Travel Far was created from the desire to help inspire, motivate and reassure as many other type 1’s to not give up on their dreams and to keep fighting.

If this post reaches through to just one person then it would have been a success. Please be sympathetic, understanding and help spread the word. Sharing this article would be a great place to start.

Also please share your thoughts below or ask any more questions you may have! :)

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Some images courtesy of Deposit Photos.
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