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Diabetes Library: What is Diabetes?

Overview: Diabetes Mellitus Type 1

By Jessica DuLong


In general, the most effective means of preventing the serious complications of diabetes mellitus type1 (DM 1) is to keep blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible at all times. A recent Government study, sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), showed that keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as safely possible reduces the risk of developing major complications of diabetes.

Along with regulating glucose levels, other health management steps can reduce risk of serious injury due to DM 1. Getting regular eye exams, for example, can help to quickly diagnose and treat retinopathy. In addition, having someone else trim your toenails can help prevent foot injuries.

What you can do at home?

Effective management of diabetes mellitus type 1 (DM 1) is a lifelong process. A doctor or diabetes education specialist can teach you to use a home glucose monitor, to recognize the symptoms of abnormal blood glucose levels, and how to properly self-treat drops and elevations of blood glucose level.

The primary means of managing blood glucose levels will be self-administering insulin injections. The most frequent complication of insulin therapy is the development of hypoglycemia due to excess insulin, exercise or alcohol or a lack of food. Hypoglycemia can be fatal if not recognized and treated. It is important that people with diabetes as well as their friends and family recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia and know how to treat an insulin reaction.

Early signs of hypoglycemia include the following:
      • Racing pulse
      • Headache
      • Clamminess
      • Hand tremors
      • Hunger
      • Tingling sensations
      • Anxiety
      • Confused thinking or speech
When glucose levels fall rapidly, the symptoms may make it difficult to give a person with diabetes the help that he or she needs. Symptoms may include irritability, hostility, combativeness, and confusion. The person with hypoglycemia may even deny that there is a problem, making it difficult for friends and family to recognize the problem and offer assistance.

In addition to insulin replacement therapy, lifestyle choices such as regular exercise and quitting smoking affect the control of glucose levels.

According to the most recent studies, a combination of resistance exercise, such as light weight lifting with aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling, is the best means to improve insulin sensitivity.

Quitting smoking is another way to reduce the risk of serious complications resulting from DM 1. Because it compounds the tendency for cholesterol in the blood to imbed in arterial walls, cigarette smoking vastly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

When you should see a doctor?

Seek medical attention as soon as any of the symptoms of diabetes mellitus type 1 (DM 1) develop. After making a diagnosis and stabilizing glucose levels in the blood stream, the doctor or a diabetes education specialist can develop a treatment plan with the patient for daily management of the disease.


Daily injections of insulin are the basic therapy for type 1 diabetes (DM 1). Overall, the goal for insulin replacement therapy (IRT) is to administer the lowest possible dose that will be effective.

Insulin injections must be balanced with meals and daily activities, and glucose levels must be closely monitored through frequent blood sugar testing. Exactly how much insulin is needed varies based on each individual’s eating and exercise habits and state of health. For this reason, a treatment plan should be established in conjunction with a doctor or diabetes education specialist as well as a dietitian or nutritional counselor. Once a plan is established, it is crucial to follow the established regimen.

Another component of managing DM 1 is limiting consumption of simple sugars found in table sugar, corn syrup, honey, or fruit juices, except as needed for emergency treatment for hypoglycemia. It is also important to limit the intake of quickly absorbable or refined starches such as those found in potatoes and white or processed flours and meals.

The best diet for a person with DM 1 is one containing a variety of lean protein sources — lean meat, fish, poultry, egg whites, tofu and low-fat dairy products — and fresh, low-starch green and colorful vegetables and fresh fruits such as melons, berries, peaches or apples. High-starch foods should be limited sharply in quantity and should come from beans and unprocessed whole grains, especially oats and brown rice.

In general, the goal of treating diabetes is the regulation of blood glucose levels to within the normal range. The more precisely a person with DM 1 follows the nutritional, exercise and insulin therapy regimen established by the doctor, the less impact the disease will have on overall health.

Treatments for the future

According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, current research may bring about significant improvements in the management of diabetes type 1. In the future, it may be possible to avoid daily injections of insulin by administering insulin through nasal sprays or in the form of a pill or patch. Other future developments may include devices that can "read" blood glucose levels without having to prick a finger to get a blood sample.

Additional Resources

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
1 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3560
(301) 654-3327

Features information about diabetes diagnosis, management and treatment, updates on current research, articles on all aspects of diabetes including "Easy to Read" and Spanish publications, news and events listings, links to other informational and professional organizations.

American Association of Diabetes Educators
100 West Monroe Street, 4th Floor
Chicago, IL 60603
(800) 338-3633
(312) 424-2426

Features a bulletin board for discussion, a database for locating a diabetes educator, virtual meeting rooms for AADE groups, news and research updates, legislative action updates, resources for continuing education of diabetes educators, and products.

American Diabetes Association
ADA National Service Center
1660 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(800) 232-3472
(703) 549-1500

Features current research information, clinical trial information, diabetes management tips, technology updates, alternative therapies, links to other internet resources (including "Fun Sites" for adults and children, and shopping.

Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International
120 Wall Street, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10005
(800) 223-1138
(212) 785-9500

Features current news and research, legislative action updates, diabetes information in English and Spanish and links to other diabetes sites including national and government sites as well as those maintained by individuals.


Jessica DuLong is a managing editor at savvyHEALTH.com.

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