Diabetes: Type 1 Diabetes
Normally, the body's immune system fights off foreign invaders like viruses or bacteria. But for unknown reasons, in people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks various cells in the body. This results in a complete deficiency of the insulin hormone.
Some people develop a type of diabetes - called secondary diabetes -- which is similar to type 1 diabetes, but the beta cells are not destroyed by the immune system but by some other factor, such as cystic fibrosis or pancreatic surgery.
So what does insulin do? Insulin's main role in the body is to help move certain nutrients -- especially a sugar called glucose -- into the cells of the body's tissues. Cells use sugars and other nutrients from meals as a source of energy to run a variety of important processes for the body.
When glucose is moved into cells, the amount of sugar in the blood decreases. Normally that signals the beta cells in the pancreas to stop secreting insulin so that you don't develop low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). But the destruction of the beta cells that occurs with type 1 diabetes throws the entire process into disarray.
In people with type 1 diabetes, glucose isn't moved into the cells because insulin is not available. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, the body's cells starve for nutrients and other systems in the body must provide energy for many important bodily functions. As a result, high blood glucose develops and can cause:
Who Gets Type 1 Diabetes?
The disease is relatively uncommon, affecting 1 in 250 Americans. The condition is more common in whites than in blacks and occurs equally in men and women.
What Causes Type 1 Diabetes?
Doctors have identified that an environmental trigger plays a role in causing the disease. Type 1 diabetes appears to occur when something in the environment -- a toxin or a virus (but doctors aren't sure) -- triggers the immune system to mistakenly attack the pancreas and destroy the beta cells of the pancreas to the point where they can no longer produce sufficient insulin. Markers of this destruction -- called autoantibodies -- can be seen in most people with type 1 diabetes. In fact, they are present in 85% to 90% of people with the condition when the blood sugars are high.
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