Just Diagnosed With Type 1 Diabetes
You may have found out you have type 1 diabetes from a routine blood test. Or you may have had sudden and severe symptoms that led to a trip to the doctor or even the emergency room.
Either way, getting the diagnosis can be overwhelming, and you’re likely to have lots of questions. Did you somehow cause type 1 diabetes? What will life be like now? Is there a cure, or is type 1 forever?
Managing a chronic (long-term) health condition like diabetes takes work, but you won’t have to do it alone. Your health care team will help you learn about day-to-day care and let you know about all the tools available to make it easier. Type 1 diabetes is very treatable. Let’s take it one step at a time.
Anyone Can Get Type 1 Diabetes
It isn’t completely clear what causes type 1 diabetes, but we know that diet and lifestyle habits don’t. Type 1 is thought to be the result of an autoimmune response, where your body attacks the cells in your pancreas that make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key to let blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy. Sometimes infection with a virus seems to trigger the autoimmune response. Many people with type 1 diabetes have family members with type 1, but most don’t.
The peak age for being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is around 13 or 14 years, but people can be diagnosed when they’re much younger (including babies) and older (even over 40).
Living With Type 1 Diabetes
You need insulin to live, so you’ll need to take it every day by injecting it or using an insulin pump. You’ll also check your blood sugar levels throughout the day to make sure you’re staying in your target range as much as possible. Your health care team will help you understand what your target range is and how to stay within it.
Get diabetes education
Type 1 diabetes requires your attention every day. To learn what you need to know, ask your doctor to refer you to diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) services. There you’ll find out how to balance insulin, food, and physical activity and get tips on how to cope with the emotional side of living with diabetes. All these things can affect your blood sugar levels.
Over time, having high blood sugar can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney failure. But you can lower your risk for those health complications and others. You’ll need to understand how food, activity, and other factors in your life affect your blood sugar and make changes to improve your blood sugar levels.
Be an experimenter. See what works best for you by trying different things. Prepare a healthier version of a favorite dish or take a walk after you eat, and keep track of your blood sugar results. This information can help you take charge of your diabetes instead of feeling like it’s in charge of you. Your diabetes educator can suggest ideas for you to try that have worked for other people with type 1.
Managing Blood Sugar
Time in range
Time in range is how long your blood sugar stays in your target range throughout the day. Most people with diabetes aim for 70% time in range, or between 16 and 17 hours out of 24.
High and low blood sugar
Blood sugar levels change often during the day. You’ll need to notice if your blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia) and be prepared to treat it right away.
If your blood sugar spikes very high and your insulin is low, you can develop diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious complication of diabetes that can be life-threatening. You’ll need medical care immediately if you develop DKA.
Your health care team will let you know how to identify and treat high and low blood sugar and related health problems. Be sure to get in touch with your doctor or diabetes educator if you have any questions.
How managing blood sugar helps now
Keeping your blood sugar levels on target can help you avoid serious health problems like heart disease and nerve damage down the road. But did you know avoiding ups and downs in blood sugar can help you feel better right away?
Steady blood sugar levels can help you have more energy, better sleep, an easier-to-manage appetite, better focus, and stable moods. If you’re having trouble meeting your target, talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about making changes to your treatment plan so you can stay in range longer and feel better.
Your diabetes care team
It takes a health care team to help you manage diabetes. And you’re the most important member of the team because you’re the one managing diabetes every day. And it really is a team—a group of dedicated, focused health care experts to assist you in feeling good and living a long, healthy life.
Your team will include your primary care doctor, endocrinologist (a doctor who treats diabetes and other hormone problems), foot doctor, eye doctor, dentist, pharmacist, nurse, dietitian, and diabetes educator. They specialize in helping you manage every aspect of diabetes, and you’ll schedule regular visits with them to ensure your treatment plan is on track. Ask your primary care doctor for referrals to these specialists to begin building your team.
If you have a young child or teen who is newly diagnosed, they will need help with everyday diabetes care especially at first, such as checking blood sugar, taking insulin, and adjusting levels if they use an insulin pump. Your child’s health care team will give you detailed information about managing your child’s diabetes, but here are some highlights:
- If your insurance and finances allow, have your child use an insulin pump to lower the risk of low blood sugar and help keep blood sugar levels in range. Your diabetes educator will need to train you and your child on using the pump.
- Also have your child use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), if possible, for around-the-clock blood sugar readings. Your child will still need twice-daily finger sticks to ensure the CGM is measuring blood sugar levels accurately.
- Talk to your child about healthy eating and being active. Both have a big impact on blood sugar levels and on feeling well in general.
With support from your family, you can feel more empowered and less overwhelmed by this new life with diabetes. Ask your loved ones for the help you need to make diabetes more manageable, such as going to doctor appointments with you or making healthy food together.
Diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) can help you learn to solve problems, cope with the emotional side of diabetes, and lower your risk for other health problems. And not just when you’re first diagnosed. Have your doctor refer you to DSMES if you’re feeling stressed or if a life change such as a job loss or a new health condition is affecting your diabetes self-care. You can also find out about the latest treatment options and get answers to any questions you have.
Connect with others to share experiences and learn tips and techniques for living well with diabetes. Visit the American Diabetes Association’s Community page, the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists’ Diabetes Online Community [PDF – 1.2 MB], and JDRF’s TypeOneNation Community Forum. If you’d like to connect in person, this directory will help you find a diabetes support group near you.
Can Type 1 Diabetes Be Cured?
Currently, there isn’t a cure for type 1 diabetes. However, what we know about the condition is constantly evolving, new technologies and medicines are being developed, and researchers are making important breakthroughs. Right now, people of all ages are leading full, healthy lives with type 1 diabetes. You can too!