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About Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is usually found in children and young adults, and is sometimes called "juvenile diabetes." But type 1 diabetes can appear at any age. This form of diabetes occurs when the immune system mistakenly destroys cells that make insulin. Of everyone diagnosed with diabetes, 5 to 10 percent have type 1 diabetes.

People with type 1 diabetes have to take insulin every day, sometimes more than once a day, because their bodies make little or no insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease

In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin. When the body does not recognize its own cells and tries to destroy them as if they were foreign invaders, this is called an autoimmune response.

The causes of type 1 diabetes

You may wonder how you, or your loved one, got type 1 diabetes. The causes of type 1 diabetes are not fully understood. Before we start talking about risk factors and genetics, we want to make one thing clear—there is nothing you could have done to prevent type 1 diabetes, either for yourself or your loved ones. Much research is being done in this area, but currently there is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes.

Potential risk factors

Researchers have uncovered some potential risk factors for type 1 diabetes. These include a family history of type 1 diabetes, belonging to certain racial groups, and geography. Exposure to certain viruses (such as the Coxsackie virus and mumps) may also trigger autoimmune disease, and early exposure to cow's milk may also play a role. Researchers also suspect that environmental factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals and pollutants, viral illnesses, or even a stressful experience, may trigger type 1 diabetes.

The genetics of type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes can run in families, but there is no real way of predicting whether your children will have type 1 diabetes. All researchers can really do is study how often type 1 diabetes occurs and calculate the odds based on the information they have.

According to research from the Joslin Diabetes Center:

  • For the average American, the chance of developing type 1 diabetes by age 70 is 1 in 100 (1 percent)
  • If an immediate relative (parent, sibling, or child) has type 1 diabetes, one's risk of developing type 1 diabetes is roughly 1 in 10 (10 percent)
  • If one child in a family has type 1 diabetes, their siblings have about a 1 in 10 chance of developing it by age 50

The genetics behind all of this can be confusing. For example, the risk for a child of a parent with type 1 diabetes is lower if the mother—rather than the father—has diabetes. If the mother has type 1 diabetes and is 25 or younger when the child is born, the risk goes down to 1 in 25 (4%). And, if the mother is over age 25, the risk drops to 1 in 100—almost the same as the average American.

Caring for a child with type 1 diabetes

A child's eating habits, energy level, and emotions can be affected by diabetes. When a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the whole family needs to be supportive. And there are many ways to be supportive. For instance, family members may want to join the person with diabetes in eating healthier and being active. Those good habits can benefit the whole family.

Caring for yourself or an adult with type 1 diabetes

Whether you were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes or are helping your child or other loved one manage diabetes, be sure to check blood sugar levels regularly. Monitoring is the only way to know how your body is responding to food, insulin, activity, and stress. Eating healthy meals, getting plenty of physical activity, and reducing or eliminating bad habits, such as smoking, are also important to managing type 1 diabetes.

Caregivers should learn as much as possible about diabetes and how it is managed. You should also get to know how diabetes affects your loved one.

You are off to a great start by visiting this section of our website. If you haven't already done so, register now to make the most of its tools and resources.

The Cornerstones4Care® Diabetes Health Coach

One of the benefits of Cornerstones4Care® membership is that you have access to an online Diabetes Health Coach. This powerful online program is designed to help people with type 1 diabetes, and those who care for them, build the healthy habits and skills that are needed to manage diabetes. It features:

  • A customized learning and action plan based on personal health assessments
  • Online coaching sessions and videos on topics that matter to people dealing with type 1 diabetes
  • Tools and trackers to monitor progress
  • Tips and reminders to help at every step

Click here to learn more.

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