The prevalence of diabetes is a growing health concern in the U.S. Approximately 20 million people, or 7 percent of the population, have diabetes. It is estimated that 5 to 10 percent of Americans diagnosed with the disease have Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune disorder-a problem with the body's immune system. In a healthy body, specialized cells in the pancreas, called beta cells, make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows the body to use energy from food. In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakes beta cells for invaders and attacks them. When enough beta cells are destroyed, symptoms of diabetes appear. These symptoms vary but may include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision and bed-wetting in children.
At present, scientists do not know exactly what causes the body's immune system to attack the beta cells, but they believe that autoimmune, genetic and environmental factors are involved. It is possible that certain viruses also can cause this reaction. The American Diabetes Association says about 90 percent of people with Type 1 diabetes have no family history of diabetes. Typically, people with Type 1 develop the disease when they are children and young adults. However, it is important to note that Type 1 diabetes can appear at any age.
Type 1 diabetes always requires daily insulin injections, along with frequent blood glucose tests and carbohydrate counting. Glucose tests tell a person how much sugar needs to be converted to energy with the addition of insulin. These tests help keep blood glucose levels in normal range and are essential in avoiding complications. Frequent blood glucose testing and daily insulin injections can decrease the chances of developing complications, such as kidney and heart disease, eye, foot and skin problems.
If you or someone you love has Type 1 diabetes, learn what can be done to maintain a healthy lifestyle by exploring the following Web sites: diabetes.org, jdfcure.org, and niddk.nih.gov/health/diabetes.
Flagstaff Medical Center offers many classes on how to live healthier with diabetes. For more information or a calendar of the classes, visit FMC's Web site at nahealth.com. Look for the Depts. & Services link and click on the Diabetes Education and Management page. In addition, you may call any one of their diabetic educators at 928-773-2249.
Editor's note: Wendy Bourne, C.D.E., is a certified diabetic educator at Flagstaff Medical Center. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o Flagstaff Medical Center, Public Relations, 1200 North Beaver Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit www.FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.