What is Type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition with no known cause or cure.
If you have type 1 diabetes your pancreas is no longer producing the insulin your body needs. Often diagnosed in childhood (although you can develop it at any time), it is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions in developed nations, and the number of cases being diagnosed is increasing each year.
Representing 10 percent of all cases of diabetes, 127,000 Australians are currently living with it. There is no cure.
Type 1 diabetes is not caused by lifestyle factors. However, following a healthy lifestyle can help you to live well with type 1 diabetes, and reduce the risk of developing dangerous complications.
Why do I need insulin?
Without insulin your body is unable to break down the glucose in the food that you eat. Glucose is your body’s main source of energy.
If you have type 1 diabetes you will need to regularly monitor your blood glucose levels and either inject insulin or use an insulin pump to replace the insulin your pancreas cannot produce.
If you don’t get the insulin you need to process the glucose in your blood your body will resort to burning fat instead. This releases dangerous chemical substances into your blood and can cause a serious condition called ketoacidosis. Meanwhile, if your blood glucose levels rise too high, you could be at risk of hyperglycaemia.
You can find more information about managing insulin-related illness at:
Need help or advice?
If you’d like more information or guidance about living with type 1 diabetes, speak to a member of your diabetes healthcare team or contact the Diabetes NSW & ACT on 1300 342 238 and ask to speak to a diabetes educator.
Signs and symptoms of Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in childhood, although you can develop it at any age. Being diagnosed and treated quickly is critical.
The most common type 1 diabetes symptoms are often referred to as the 4Ts which stand for Toilet, Tired, Thirsty and Thinner. If you notice these in your child or yourself you should see your doctor immediately.
Signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes may include:
- Passing urine more frequently
- Excessive thirst and drinking a lot of fluids
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Mood changes
- Skin infections or itching
- Oral or vaginal thrush
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive hunger
- Blurred vision
If you or a member of your family are experiencing one or more of these type 1 diabetes symptoms you should make an urgent appointment to see your doctor.
Type 1 diabetes complications
There are a number of complications associated with diabetes. If diabetes is left undiagnosed or unchecked for too long, it can lead to serious and often life threatening health complications. Some of the serious complications which can arise from diabetes include:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Vision loss and blindness
- Limb amputation
- Depression, stress and burnout
- Sexual dysfunction
- Persistent infections
This video explains more about the health complications which are associated with living with diabetes.
It’s important to understand the complications associated with diabetes. If you have questions talk to your doctor, a member of your diabetes healthcare team or call us on 1300 342 238.
Complications specific to type 1 diabetes
Some specific type 1 diabetes complications include:
Type 1 diabetes and coeliac disease are both described as autoimmune diseases, meaning that your immune system is attacking parts of your body. While the causes of both coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes are not fully known, there is a relationship between the two. Between 4 and 10 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes also have coeliac disease.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)
Consistently high blood glucose levels can lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. This happens when a severe lack of insulin means your body cannot use glucose for energy and it starts to break down other body tissue as an alternative energy source. Ketones are the by-product of this process.
Ketones are poisonous chemicals which build up and, if left unchecked, will cause the body to become acidic, hence the name ‘acidosis’. DKA generally develops over 24 hours but can develop more quickly, particularly in young children. DKA develops when blood glucose levels are extremely high, often as a result of illness. DKA can develop rapidly and should be treated as a medical emergency at hospital.
If you repeatedly inject insulin into the same place on your body, you can develop a build-up of fatty tissue under the skin which is known as lipohypertrophy.
Anxious or worried about diabetes complications?
If you find yourself feeling anxious or worried about the complications of diabetes, you may want to use our Psychologist on Call service. Our Psychologist, is available for confidential phone discussions to help you develop strategies for managing your diabetes and get you back to a happy fulfilling life. If you would like to access this service, call our Helpline on 1300 342 238 to make an appointment.
I have just been diagnosed
If you’ve just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes you could be feeling overwhelmed and going through a range of emotions including anger, sadness, grief, denial, loss or fear. This is a normal response.
The first thing to know is that you are not alone. Many thousands of Australians live with type 1 diabetes every day. Below are some helpful first steps you can take to set yourself up to manage your diabetes and live well.
Make sure you have a diabetes healthcare team
Living with type 1 diabetes can be challenging so it’s recommended you have a healthcare team to provide support and help you manage your diabetes. Your healthcare team may include your GP, an endocrinologist, exercise physiologist, dietitian and diabetes educator. Find out more about how each health professional can help you.
Your healthcare team will also help you register for the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS).
Register for the NDSS
The NDSS provides a range of services to help you manage your diabetes including free and subsidised products, educational events, and advice via the NDSS Helpline – 1800 637 700. These services are available to everyone registered with the NDSS, which is open to all Australians who:
- Are residents of Australia,
- Have been diagnosed with diabetes by a medical practitioner, and
- Hold a current Australian Medicare card or Department of Veterans’ Affairs file number.
How to register for the NDSS
To register with the NDSS follow the steps outlined below:
- Complete the registration form, which you can download here, or ask your doctor, hospital or pharmacy for a printed copy.
- Have the form certified by a registered medical practitioner such as your doctor, endocrinologist or credentialed diabetes educator.
- Email the form to email@example.com, or mail it to the address provided on the form.
For more information about the NDSS or for help with registering for the scheme, call the Helpline on 1800 637 700.
Find out more about diabetes and how to manage it
It’s really important for someone living with diabetes to understand how the condition affects their body. It’s a good idea to attend diabetes education sessions and talk to your diabetes educator or your doctor about any questions or concerns you might have.
If you join Diabetes NSW & ACT you have access to free and discounted events as well as the support of a team of health professionals if you have questions or need support. Find out more about the benefits of membership here.
Create a support network
It’s really helpful to have people around you who are aware of your diagnosis and can offer you the support and care you need. Remember:
- Everyone has different experiences with diabetes
- Treatment recommendations are individual
- Diabetes support groups are there to help you
- Services are available to assist with important issues
- To talk about your feelings – counselling may be helpful
It’s also valuable to share your concerns and talk to your loved ones about your diagnosis. Perhaps you could invite them to see your GP with you so they can be reassured about how to manage your diabetes together.
Remember you are not alone. There are lots of people who can help you!
Help and support
When you’re first diagnosed with diabetes it’s important to spend time with your healthcare team including your credentialed diabetes educator and endocrinologist so you understand how to manage your diabetes and live well. You can find out more about living with type 1 diabetes here.
Through Diabetes NSW & ACT you can also access a range of services, programs, events and information to help make managing your diabetes on a day-to-day basis a little easier.
Resources for Type 1 diabetes
Access a range of useful resources to help you live well with type 1 diabetes. These include:
- Information and factsheets on a range of topics including insulin, hypoglycaemia, managing sick days and your mental health, to help you live well with diabetes
- Information on the safe disposal of sharps if you are treating your diabetes with insulin
- Information on travelling safely with diabetes
- A range of delicious and nutritious recipes to help you follow a healthy diet
- Diabetes NSW & ACT has a free Psychologist on Call service available to help you develop strategies to manage your diabetes and get you back to a happier more fulfilling life. If you would like to access this service call our Helpline on 1300 342 238 to make an appointment.
You’ll find a wide range of other helpful information here.
Information for kids, teens and parents
If you’re a young person living with type 1 diabetes, or the parent or teacher of a child or teenager with diabetes, our special as1Diabetes website is packed with information, ideas and resources to help you understand diabetes and how to manage it. If you would like any additional information or support, please contact the Diabetes NSW & ACT Helpline on 1300 342 238.
Our information sheets have also been translated into 20 languages for culturally and linguistically diverse communities with a high prevalence of diabetes. Download our translated resources.
Events and group education programs
Diabetes events and education programs are a great opportunity for you to meet with health professionals such as credentialed diabetes educators, accredited practicing dietitians and exercise physiologists. They also help you connect and share experiences with others living with diabetes.
The more you know, the more confident you will become and the easier it will be to manage your diabetes. That’s why our events and group education programs focus on providing you with information, practical advice and product knowledge. Sessions are delivered for all types of diabetes in major cities, regional and rural areas, and cover topics such as:
- Diabetes self-management strategies
- Healthy eating, carbohydrate counting and food choices
- Understanding medications and insulin use
- Dealing with complications that may arise
- Looking after your emotional health
You can find information on upcoming events in your area by searching our events and education page or by phoning our Helpline 1300 342 238.