Advertisement -- Learn more about ads on this site.

Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the body does not make enough insulin to control blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes was previously called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes.

During digestion, food is broken down into basic components. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, primarily glucose. Glucose is a critically important source of energy for the body's cells. To provide energy to the cells, glucose needs to leave the blood and get inside the cells.

Insulin traveling in the blood signals the cells to take up glucose. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. When levels of glucose in the blood rise, like following a meal, the pancreas normally produces more insulin.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when some or all of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. This leaves the patient with little or no insulin. Without insulin, sugar accumulates in the bloodstream rather than entering the cells. As a result, the body cannot use this glucose for energy.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. This means it begins when the body's immune system attacks cells in the body. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys insulin-producing cells (beta cells) in the pancreas.

Why the immune system attacks the beta cells remains a mystery. Experts suspect that some people are genetically predisposed to the disease. And an environmental factor may act as a trigger. Viral infections and diet are two possible triggers.

Type 1 diabetes is not caused by the amount of sugar in a person's diet before the disease develops.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease. It is diagnosed most commonly between ages 10 and 16. Type 1 diabetes equally affects males and females.

Page 1 of 9     Next Page:  Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus Symptoms
Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 3 SparkPoints
From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

You can find more great health information on the Harvard Health Publications website.