Type 1 diabetes strikes children and adults and stays with them for life. This serious condition can happen to anyone and is not caused by anything that they did, or did not do. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) exists to find the cure.

Type 1 diabetes affects about 350,000 people in the UK, over 25,000 of them children, who will need to have around 42 million insulin injections this month, just to stay alive.

JDRF is on a mission to raise more money for research and to tell more people about type 1 diabetes. We need your help to do it !

What are the different types of diabetes?

Type 1 (juvenile)

Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed from infancy to the late 30s.  With this type of diabetes, a person’s pancreas produces no insulin.  It occurs when the body’s own defence system (the immune system) attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, although what causes the immune system to do this is not entirely known.  People with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin several times every day.

Type 2 (adult-onset)

Type 2 diabetes typically develops after age 40, but can appear earlier.  With this type of diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin but not enough, or the body is not able to use it effectively.  Treatment includes diet control, exercise, self-monitoring of blood glucose and, in some cases, oral drugs or insulin.

Gestational Diabetes

Between two and five percent of pregnant women develop high blood sugar during pregnancy.  Although this type of diabetes usually disappears after the birth of the baby, women who have had gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

What are the warning signs of type 1 diabetes?

Warning signs include: extreme thirst, frequent urination, drowsiness or lethargy, increased appetite, sudden weight loss for no reason, sudden vision changes, fruity odour on breath, heavy or laboured breathing, stupor or unconsciousness.  These symptoms may occur suddenly.

Is type 1 diabetes hereditary?

90% of people who develop type 1 diabetes have no relative with the condition. However, genetic factors pre-dispose people to developing diabetes. Certain genes called HLA markers are associated with diabetes risk.  If a child is born with such markers, his or her risk of developing type 1 diabetes is about the same as if he or she had a sibling with diabetes, even though no other family member may have the disease.  However, not all those people who have these HLA markers develop diabetes, it is thought that some kind of trigger factor causes diabetes to develop.

How did I/my child get diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an ancient condition documented as far back as 1500 BC. Although much is now understood about its occurrence and consequences, research is still ongoing to understand the actual cause of type 1 diabetes. At the moment it is believed to be caused by an auto-immune response that may be triggered by a viral or other infection, which damages the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. As the cause of type 1 diabetes is still unclear many myths continue to persist. Type 1 diabetes is not caused by eating the wrong foods nor too much sugar, neither is it caused by anything that the child or parents did or didn’t do.

How long will I/my child have diabetes?  Can it be outgrown?

Until research finds the cure, type 1 diabetes is a life long condition. This is why it is so important for research to continue into the causes and treatments as well as the search for the cure.

How is it treated or controlled?

Because the body isn’t producing insulin it has to be replaced by other means. At present, it is usually given by regular injections or by a continuous injection system like a pump. In addition to insulin injections a healthy way of eating and physical activity, promoting growth and normal weight, are seen as a crucial part of the treatment. Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels is necessary so that insulin can be adjusted for food and activity levels. The aim of the treatment is to maintain blood glucose within the normal range of 4 to 7 mmol/L. for as much of the time as possible. Basic information on how to control the type 1 diabetes is normally given at the time of diagnosis.

An important element of type 1 diabetes management is to have regular check ups of how the body is coping. In addition there will be an annual check up at the hospital where comprehensive tests will be carried out. This annual check up will also include a discussion of how type 1 diabetes is affecting daily life and an opportunity to ask questions.

How will it affect my life?

The initial response to a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is often extremely emotional. It is not uncommon to experience emotions such as shock, anger, denial, guilt, sadness, despair. Parents and carers will often feel these emotions more keenly and more immediately than the child.

At the same time as the emotional impact there are a lot of practical issues which have to be dealt with. In the short term there is a lot of information to take on board as well as learning new skills such as injecting, monitoring and choosing foods.

In the longer term there may be fears for the future, including the long term health consequences of having type 1 diabetes. Learning as much as possible about type 1 diabetes increases the feelings of control and choice. Talking to other people with the condition is helpful. Although daily life will always be more complicated by managing the type 1 diabetes, many people have proved that it is no barrier to an active, healthy and fulfilling life.

Parents and carers may want to find a way to meet their emotional needs or to increase their resourcefulness at a time of intense change. One way might be to join an organisation where they can meet others in the same situation or join in with activities such as helping to promote diabetes awareness or research for the cure.

What foods should a person with diabetes eat/avoid?

There are very few foods that someone with type 1 diabetes cannot eat and no special foods are required.  The ‘diabetic diet’ should be a healthy diet designed to provide easily controllable, easily accessible fuel to your body.

Limiting the amount of fat eaten is important for those with diabetes because high cholesterol and diabetes are two of the four risk factors for developing heart disease.  Some tips:

  • Don’t fry foods: bake, grill, poach, or sauté in non-stick pans.
  • Steam or microwave vegetables.Buy tinned fish in water, not oil.  Buy tinned fruit in fruit juice, not syrup.
  • Consider lower fat versions of dairy products such as butter, milk cheese, yoghurt and ice-cream.
  • Eat less high-fat red meat and more low-fat turkey, fish, and chicken with the skin removed before cooking.
  • Replace diets high in animal protein with meals high in complex carbohydrates, which are starches found in breads, cereals, starchy vegetables, legumes, rice, and pastas.
  • Choose whole-grain cereals, breads, and other products such as brown rice, bulgur, and barley.
  • Eat fresh vegetables and fruits, unpeeled. Avoid overcooking vegetables.


Courtesy of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation