What is Type 1 Diabetes and Why Are People Dying from It?

If your loved one or someone you know has passed away from Type 1 diabetes, it may have come as a shock to you. The majority of people who get Type 1 diabetes, don’t have a history of diabetes in their family and typically aren’t looking for it. It is important to understand what is “diabetes” and more, what are the differences between the more commonly known Type 2 diabetes and Type 1 diabetes.

There are two main types of diabetes: 

  • Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an incurable, auto-immune disease, not a lifestyle disease. T1D accounts for roughly 10% of the more than 420 million global cases of diabetes, and people with Type 1 are insulin-dependent for life. 
  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot properly use insulin, also known as “insulin-resistance,” and can often be treated through diet, exercise and medication.

Learn about Type 2 diabetes here and other forms of diabetes here.

What happens to the body when someone develops Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic, autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. This attack leaves the pancreas with little or no ability to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Without insulin, sugar stays in the blood and can cause serious damage to organ systems, causing people to experience Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). 

Learn about the warning signs of T1D.

When we eat, our bodies break down complex carbohydrates into glucose, the fuel we need. The pancreas releases insulin that acts as a kind of key to unlock the cells, allowing glucose to enter and be absorbed. Without fuel, cells in the body cannot survive. In addition, excess glucose can make the bloodstream too acidic, resulting in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can be fatal if not treated. People with T1D must inject or pump insulin into their bodies every day to carefully regulate blood sugar.

What is DKA?

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a complication from diabetes that can be serious and life-threatening. DKA is often a common factor when first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, but also can occur during management of the disease. When the body is not receiving enough insulin to break down glucose, it forces the body to start breaking down fat as fuel. Ketones are then released into the body.

Dangers of DKA

DKA can lead to coma, or even death if the level of ketones in the body are high enough.

Causes can include:

  • Lack of insulin
  • Consistent high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia)
  • Lack of food in the system due to illness/nausea
  • Overnight low blood sugars (hypoglycemia)
  • Infection
  • Dehydration

How do you get Type 1 diabetes?

T1D is neither preventable or curable and while its cause is unknown, studies prove that T1D results from a genetic predisposition together with an environmental trigger.

If you would like to get involved in spreading awareness to help prevent death by DKA, please visit Beyond Type 1’s DKA Awareness Campaign.

Read The 5 Stages of Grief.