The Facts about Type 1 Diabetes

Girl and boy eating bananasWHAT IS TYPE 1 DIABETES?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system damages the pancreas so that it can’t make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps blood sugar (glucose) get into the cells of the body to be used as fuel. When glucose can’t enter the cells, it builds up in the blood, causing high blood sugar. High blood sugar can cause problems with blood vessels, nerves, eyes, kidneys, the heart and other areas of the body.


Type 1 diabetes often appears suddenly. In children, type 1 diabetes symptoms may be similar to the flu. Symptoms can include unusual thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger yet with weight loss, loss of appetite, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting. Diagnosis is usually done with a blood test.

Children with type 1 diabetes must have multiple daily injections of insulin to keep the blood glucose level within normal ranges. Insulin is given either by injection or insulin pump. Treatment also includes eating the right foods at the right time to manage blood sugar, and regular blood testing to check glucose levels.

“Type 1 diabetes is a long-term, chronic condition, with potential, though rare, fatal consequences if not managed regularly,” CHOC Children’s endocrinologist Dr. Mark Daniels says. “An endocrinologist can help a child and his or her family come to terms with the disease and find ways to fit it into their lives.”


Only 5 percent of all people with diabetes have type 1. The remainder have another kind called type 2 diabetes, which is much more common in adults. While type 1 diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin, type 2 diabetes occurs when the body isn’t able to use insulin properly, even when it is present. Type 1 diabetes cannot yet be prevented, but in many cases type 2 diabetes may be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle. Type 2 diabetes is most often diagnosed in adults, though a rising number of children are being diagnosed with the disease.

S.M.A.R.T.I.E.S. Class Helps Kids Manage Type 1 Diabetes

S.M.A.R.T.I.E.S. (Smart Kids/Teens Managing and Regulating their Insulin, Exercise and Sugars), a special class that provides education to newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes patients at CHOC, features interactive activities and learning techniques for different ages. Additionally, the class provides an opportunity for patients to bond with other patients with diabetes. The patient’s siblings and parents are also encouraged to attend.

Boy raising his hand in the classroom

Sisters Create Diabetes App to Help Patients Communicate with Caregivers

Sisters smiling together

After living with Type I diabetes for most of their childhood, Reece and Olivia Ohmer were already well-versed in educating their family about how they were feeling and caring for themselves. But both girls eventually became bogged down by responding to frequent and complex check-ins and reminders. Looking for a better way to communicate with their parents and physicians, the sisters created a diabetes emoticon app.

Simple Steps to Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can sometimes be prevented. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are factors that put a person at risk for type 2 diabetes. Be sure to remind your kids of these easy steps that can help reduce their risk for developing type 2 diabetes and other associated health problems.

Family taking a walk at the park with dog

Knowledge is the best medicine. Learn more about your child's health in these features from the experts at CHOC.

Understanding Pediatric Health Care
As a parent or guardian, you will make many decisions about your child’s health throughout their lifetime.

Kids and Healthy Eating Habits
Overweight and obese children face many serious health threats. As kids, these threats include high blood pressure, joint problems and low self-esteem.

The Role of Teens in their Health Care Decisions
Treat your teen like an adult and really explain the disease to them and what it means to them.

Childhood Obesity
Prevention really starts during pregnancy. Mom should have a healthy weight gain while pregnant and keep as active as she can considering her condition.

Subscribe to KidsHealth