Understanding Type 1 Diabetes - Fairview Health Services
 
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Understanding Type 1 Diabetes

To get energy, the body breaks food down into fuel. When you have diabetes, your body has trouble using this fuel for energy. Read on to learn how the body normally gets energy, and what happens when you have diabetes.

Outline of a person eating an apple, and how insulin and glucose interact in the body

Glucose builds up in the bloodstream

How the Body Normally Gets Energy

After you eat, digestion breaks down part of the food into a fuel called glucose (a type of sugar). Glucose leaves the digestive system and enters the bloodstream. This starts to raise the body’s blood glucose level (also called blood sugar level).

Glucose Travels to the Cells

Glucose travels to the cells to be burned as fuel. When it arrives, it needs help to get into the cells.

Insulin Unlocks the Cells

For glucose to enter the cells, insulin is needed. Insulin is made by the pancreas. It travels in the blood and acts like a key, unlocking the cells so that glucose can enter. Then the cells have glucose to burn for energy, and the blood sugar level stays steady.

When You Have Type 1 Diabetes

When you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas stops making insulin. Without insulin, your cells can’t get glucose to burn for energy. This is why you may feel weak or tired. Managing your diabetes and taking insulin will help you feel better and stay healthy.

Glucose Builds Up

Without insulin, glucose can’t enter the cells. It builds up in your bloodstream instead. This leads to higher and higher blood sugar levels. Over time, high blood sugar levels can cause serious health problems.

Ketones Form

When your cells can’t get glucose to burn for energy, they burn fat instead. This leaves behind acids called ketones in your blood and urine. A buildup of ketones can cause a dangerous condition called ketoacidosis.

Insulin Can Be Replaced

The insulin you’re missing can be replaced. The man-made insulin you deliver into your body unlocks your cells so that glucose can enter. Then your body can burn glucose for energy. This also helps keep your blood sugar within a healthy range.

 

Long-term Complications

Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels. This can lead to health problems (complications). Keeping your blood sugar in your target range can help prevent or delay complications. Some long-term complications of diabetes are:

  • Eye problems

  • Kidney disease

  • Nerve damage

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Tooth and gum problems

  • Heart and blood vessel disease

 

 

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