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Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

Learning to Read the Signs

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Updated March 18, 2010

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

Diagnosing Diabetes

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The symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually develop quickly and over a brief period of time. They can be mistaken for a stomach virus because vomiting is often present at onset, especially in children. The classic symptoms of type 1 include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Continual thirst despite taking fluids
  • Severe hunger urges
  • Unexplained weight loss

Making Sense of the Symptoms

At first glance these symptoms don’t seem related, but they are. Because your pancreas has stopped creating insulin, a hormone, which is needed to process glucose taken in from food, your body is literally starving. Hunger, weight loss and fatigue are consequences of your organs not getting the glucose they need to function properly. Frequent urination and thirst occur because your body is doing all it can to get rid of the excess glucose by dumping it into the bladder.

Once insulin injections begin, the body usually begins a rapid recovery and symptoms disappear.

It is essential that type 1 diabetes be accurately diagnosed because treatment with insulin is vital to recovery. The glucose concentration in the blood can become so high a serious condition known as ketoacidosis could develop. This occurs when your body cannot find the glucose it needs to function properly and may be a result of:

  • A lack of insulin
    When there is a lack of insulin to process the glucose, your body searches for an alternative source of fuel. Stored fat is a readily available source.

  • Too little food
    Sickness commonly dulls your appetite, but not eating may rob your body of the glucose it needs for energy.

  • Low blood sugar
    When there is not enough glucose available in your blood for energy, your body will go to the next available source: body fat.

The process of burning fat this way may sound like a good way to lose weight but it is not. It actually upsets the chemical balance in your blood and produces ketones, which are toxic to your body and could be life threatening.

The symptoms of ketoacidosis usually develop slowly. The first symptoms are:

  • A dry mouth or excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • High blood sugar
  • Showing moderate to high levels of ketones. Ketones are tested at home using a urine sample and test strips

Secondary symptoms follow, such as:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Vomiting (when vomiting continues for more than 2 hours, immediate medical attention should be sought)
  • Labored breathing
  • Breath that has a fruity smell
  • Difficulty focusing attention

Honeymoon Phase

For some who are diagnosed with type 1, the pancreas may actually continue producing insulin for a period of time. This is referred to as the “honeymoon phase.” When this occurs, it routinely creates false hope that the diagnosis was wrong or that the pancreas has begun working properly again. But the honeymoon phase is simply the final surge of effort on the part of the pancreas to secrete insulin. It may last for weeks, or in rare cases months, but eventually ceases production of adequate amounts of insulin.

Complications of Type 1 Diabetes

Those with type 1 diabetes should be checked regularly for signs of complications. Over a period of several years, complications can result from sustained high levels of glucose in the blood. These complications can affect:

  • Eyes
  • Nerves
  • Kidneys
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Damage to the nerves - neuropathy
  • Damage to the eyes - retinopathy
  • Understanding the complications of type 1

    The good news is that many of these health concerns can be prevented or at least delayed with good control of blood glucose and regular medical care.

    Sources:

    Frequently Asked Questions. Juvenile Diabetes Association. Accessed: August 12, 2008. http://www.jdrf.org/index.cfm?page_id=103442

    Type 1 Diabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed: August 12, 2008. http://www.ndep.nih.gov/diabetes/youth/youth_FS.htm#Type1

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