Diabetes (Type 1)

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Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) disease that affects how your body turns food into energy. Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key to let blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy. Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake) that stops your body from making insulin. When there isn’t enough insulin, too much sugar stays in your blood. This can cause immediate health problems, including diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can be life-threatening. Over time, too much sugar in your blood can cause other serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

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Key Facts

  • Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2—approximately 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1.
  • Risk factors for type 1 diabetes are not as clear as for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, though family history is known to play a part.
  • Blood sugar levels change often during the day. When they drop below 70 mg/dL, this is called having low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). At this level, you need to take action to bring it back up. Low blood sugar is serious and especially common in people with type 1 diabetes.
  • Common symptoms of low blood sugar may include fast heartbeat, shaking, sweating, nervousness or anxiety, irritability or confusion, dizziness, and hunger.
  • Many types of insulin are used to treat diabetes. Types of insulin are classified by how fast and how long they work in your body.
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious complication of diabetes that happens when your blood sugar is too high for too long and can be life-threatening. DKA is most common among people with type 1 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes can also develop DKA.
  • Good diabetes care (including self-care) and diabetes self-management education and support are key to living well with diabetes.

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For Parents

If your child has type 1 diabetes, you’ll be involved in diabetes care on a day-to-day basis, from serving healthy foods to giving insulin injections to watching for and treating hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). You’ll also need to stay in close contact with your child’s health care team; they will help you understand the treatment plan and how to help your child stay healthy.

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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. Many people with type 1 diabetes have family members with type 1, but most don’t.

Man giving himself an insulin shot
Living With Type 1 Diabetes

If you have 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.

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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.

Prevention Tips

Currently, no one knows how to prevent type 1 diabetes, but it can be managed by taking your medicines as prescribed by your doctor, living a healthy lifestyle, managing your blood sugar, being physically active, and getting regular health checkups. Diabetes self-management education and support services can help people learn how to manage their diabetes.

More Information

Visit CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation to learn more.

Page last reviewed: February 1, 2021