Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

Doctor discussing prescription with senior patient
Hero Images/Getty Images

Type 1 diabetes is marked by a decreased production of insulin resulting in higher-than-normal blood glucose (sugar) levels and may affect both adults and children. Although the disease may progress gradually, the symptoms of type 1 diabetes can set in quickly. Recognizing the warning signs is essential to an accurate diagnosis and getting effective treatment. Without taking adequate insulin, an elevated glucose concentration resulting from the disease could have serious consequences.

Frequent Symptoms

At first glance, the symptoms of type 1 diabetes don’t seem related. But because the pancreas has stopped creating insulin, a hormone which is needed to process glucose taken in from food, the body is literally starving. Hunger, weight loss, and fatigue are consequences of organs not getting the glucose they need to function properly. Frequent urination and thirst occur because the body is doing all it can to get rid of the excess glucose by dumping it into the bladder. However, once insulin injections begin, the body usually begins a rapid recovery and symptoms disappear.

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually develop quickly and over a brief period of time. The classic symptoms of type 1 include:

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

In children specifically, the following symptoms may be noticed:

  • Vomiting
  • Frequent bed-wetting
  • Weight loss
  • Severe hunger
  • Frequent thirst
  • Fatigue or mood changes

Rare Symptoms

The following symptoms are generally considered rare, but may occur:

  • Stomach pain or nausea
  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Rapid breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

The 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, symptoms may seem to subside and 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

Both short-term and long-term complications of varying severity may arise as a result of type 1 diabetes.

Short-term Complications

  • Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia is a condition in which your blood glucose levels drop to a dangerously low level, usually as a result of not eating enough and possibly combined with taking too much insulin, exercising too much, or other lifestyle factors. If this condition is not treated quickly it can result in a medical emergency.
  • Hyperglycemia: Hyperglycemia is a condition in which your blood glucose levels are too high. If prolonged, it could lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which occurs when the body does not have enough insulin and uses stored body fat as an alternative source of fuel. This toxic state may lead to coma and possibly death.

Long-term Complications

Although there is still a lot we don’t fully understand about diabetes, one thing is certain: High blood sugar over a long period of time puts you at greater risk for a number of future health complications. These include long-term complications that could affect several different body systems and organs:

  • Eyes: Diabetes puts you at greater risk for retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts.
  • Kidneys: High blood pressure, which is common in people with diabetes, increases the risk of kidney disease.
  • Heart and Blood Vessels: High cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels damage the heart and blood vessels leaving you susceptible to heart disease and stroke.
  • Feet: Nerve damage or neuropathy can cause a loss of sensation in your feet, making you less aware of pain or discomfort. This may lead to injuries such as a blister or more severe wound that is difficult to heal.
  • Teeth and Gums: High levels of glucose in your blood create a greater concentration of sugar in your saliva. This contributes to plaque build-up and gum disease.

When to See a Doctor/Go to the Hospital

As diabetes requires a confirmed diagnosis and swift medical treatment to safely manage glucose, seek out professional medical care as soon as you notice any of the above symptoms in yourself or your child.

A Word From Verywell

Type 1 diabetes is not currently preventable nor curable, but the good news is that managing your diabetes well on a consistent basis can help delay or even prevent most, if not all, of the resulting complications. Research to date has shown that good glucose control over a long period of time is your best weapon against future health issues. It’s simply a matter of being educated on what good diabetes management entails and then sticking to it every day. The fours pillars of effective management of type 1 diabetes include:

  • Taking insulin as prescribed
  • Following a food plan
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Consistent glucose testing

Balancing your glucose levels with the first three is your daily challenge. Testing your blood regularly is one way of measuring your progress. But it’s important to realize that some days your glucose will be higher than others. The goal is to keep it in your target range as often as possible.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • Type 1 Diabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.