Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



Treatment of type 1 diabetes requires daily insulin injections. The injected insulin makes up for the insulin that is not produced by the body. Most people with type 1 diabetes need two to four injections per day.

Some people use a syringe for injections. Other patients use semiautomatic injector pens that help to measure precise amounts of insulin. An increasing number of patients use insulin pumps. Insulin pumps deliver a regulated dose of insulin through a needle implanted under the skin. The insulin pump is worn in a pack on the body.

People with type 1 diabetes must properly regulate insulin intake. Enough insulin must be taken to keep blood sugar levels from getting or staying too high. But low blood sugar can also be dangerous. Low blood sugar may occur if too much insulin is taken or if not enough carbohydrates are ingested in to balance the insulin.

In order to properly regulate their insulin intake, people with type 1 diabetes need to monitor their blood sugar levels several times per day. They do this by testing a sample of blood. They must prick their finger and place a small drop of blood on a test strip. The test strip is inserted into a device called a glucose monitor. An accurate reading of blood sugar levels is returned within seconds.

Newer glucose monitors have test strips that take the blood directly from the spot that was pricked. This process requires less blood. Other monitors allow blood to be taken from the forearm, thigh or the fleshy part of the hand. This can be less painful.

People with diabetes need to watch their diets. A healthy diet for someone with type 1 diabetes keeps the amount of glucose in the blood relatively constant. This makes blood glucose levels easier to control with insulin. A person with type 1 diabetes typically is advised to eat, exercise and take insulin at about the same times every day. Regular habits help to keep glucose levels within the normal range.

Fast-acting insulin may be taken as needed, depending on the amount of carbohydrates ingested. Your doctor or dietitian will help you determine the best insulin and diet schedule for you or your child.

People with type 1 diabetes should get regular exercise. Exercise helps to keep the heart and blood vessels healthy. It also helps to control blood sugar by causing muscles to use glucose and by keeping body weight down. Ask your doctor how much and when to exercise to best control your diabetes.

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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.

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