Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent T1D, and—at present—nothing you can do to get rid of it.
Whom T1D Affects
Type 1 diabetes strikes both children and adults at any age. It comes on suddenly, causes dependence on injected or pumped insulin for life, and carries the constant threat of devastating complications.
How T1D Is Managed
Living with T1D is a constant challenge. People with the disease must carefully balance insulin doses (either by injections multiple times a day or continuous infusion through a pump) with eating and other activities throughout the day and night. They must also measure their blood-glucose level by pricking their fingers for blood six or more times a day. Despite this constant attention, people with T1D still run the risk of dangerous high or low blood-glucose levels, both of which can be life threatening. People with T1D overcome these challenges on a daily basis.
Insulin Is Not a Cure
While insulin injections or infusion allow a person with T1D to stay alive, they do not cure the disease, nor do they necessarily prevent the possibility of the disease’s serious effects, which may include: kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, heart attack, stroke, and pregnancy complications.
The Outlook for Treatments and a Cure
Although T1D is a serious and difficult disease, treatment options are improving all the time, and people with T1D can lead full and active lives. JDRF is driving research to progressively remove the impact of the disease from people’s lives until we ultimately achieve a world without T1D.
- 1.25M Americans are living with T1D including about 200,000 youth (less than 20 years old) and over a million adults (20 years old and older) 1,2,5
- 40,000 people are diagnosed each year in the U.S. 1, 2
- 5 million people in the U.S. are expected to have T1D by 2050, including nearly 600,000 youth. 2,3
- Between 2001 and 2009 there was a 21% increase in the prevalence of T1D in people under age 20. 3
- $14B T1D-associated annual healthcare costs in the U.S.
- Less than one-third of people with T1D in the U.S. are achieving target blood glucose control levels 6
- T1D is associated with an estimated loss of life-expectancy of up to 13 years 7
Warning signs of T1D may occur suddenly and can include:
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination
- Drowsiness or lethargy
- Increased appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Sudden vision changes
- Sugar in the urine
- Fruity odor on the breath
- Heavy or labored breathing
- Stupor or unconsciousness
What Is It Like to Have T1D?
Ask people who have T1D, and they will tell you: it’s difficult. It’s upsetting. It’s life threatening. It never goes away. But at the same time, people with T1D serve as an inspiration by facing the disease’s challenges with courage and perseverance, and they don’t let it stand in the way of achieving their goals.
“Both children and adults like me who live with type 1 diabetes need to be mathematicians, physicians, personal trainers, and dietitians all rolled into one. We need to be constantly factoring and adjusting, making frequent finger sticks to check blood sugars, and giving ourselves multiple daily insulin injections just to stay alive.”
— JDRF International Chairman, Mary Tyler Moore
“It is a 24/7/365 job. We never get to relax and forget about food, whether we’ve exercised too much or too little, insulin injections, blood-sugar testing, or the impact of stress, a cold, a sunburn, and on and on. So many things make each day a risky venture when you live with T1D.”
— Mary Vonnegut, adult, Rhode Island
“Unlike other kids, I have to check my blood sugar 8 to 10 times a day; everything I eat is measured and every carbohydrate counted. My kit goes with me everywhere I go … Too much exercise or not eating all my food can be dangerous. I think I’m too young to have to worry about all this stuff.”
— Jonathan Platt, 8, California
“It controls your life in ways that someone without it doesn’t even see. For me, the worst part of living with T1D is the fear that my three children or their children might develop the disease.”
— Nicky Hider, adult, New York
1 CDC National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014
2 Impreatore, et al. 2012. Diab Care 35: 2515-2520
3 Dabelea, et al. 2014. JAMA 311: 1778-1786
4 Boyle, et al. 2010. Pop Health Metrics 8:29
5 JDRF Estimations
6T1D exchange data
7Jama 2015; 313(1):1-9)