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Type 1 Diabetes Questions and Answers

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Type 1 Diabetes Questions and Answers

What are some common complications of type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes can lead to high blood glucose, or hyperglycemia. While it’s not possible — or even necessary — to have perfectly controlled blood sugars when you have diabetes, blood sugars that are consistently high (meaning, above your target range) can lead to long-term complications. The longer you live with diabetes and the less controlled your blood sugars are, the higher your risk of complications. These complications, if left untreated, can be serious and even life-threatening. The most common complications of type 1 diabetes are as follows:

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Heart disease

This includes heart attack, stroke, chest pain and narrowing of the arteries.

Kidney disease

Also called nephropathy, the filtering system of the kidneys can be damaged by high blood glucose, leading to kidney failure or end-stage kidney disease, requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Nerve damage

Also called neuropathy, nerve damage occurs because high blood glucose levels affect the arteries that keep your nerves healthy. Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage that occurs outside of the brain and spinal cord, primarily affecting the nerves in your hands and feet. Numbness, tingling, pain and loss of sensation are symptoms of neuropathy. But all of the nerves in the body can be affected by diabetes, including nerves in your digestive tract, your reproductive organs, and your heart.

Eye disease

High blood glucose levels can damage the blood vessels of the retina, causing diabetic retinopathy. Left untreated, it can lead to blindness. Other eye problems are more likely to occur due to diabetes, as well, such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular edema.

Foot damage

High blood glucose levels can cause damage to both the arteries and nerves in the feet, putting your feet at risk for infection and possible amputation if left untreated.

Other complications include certain skin conditions, gum disease and dental problems, hearing loss, and bone and joint disorders. Try not to get disheartened, though. Complications can be prevented with good self-management and medical care, and today, there are better, more effective treatments to slow their progression.

Can type 1 diabetes go away?

Currently, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes. Interestingly, in some people who are newly diagnosed with this condition, it seems like their diabetes has gone away! This happens because the pancreas may still be making enough insulin to keep blood glucose levels in a safe range. Called the “honeymoon period” (because it doesn’t last forever), you may find that you don’t have to take any insulin for a few weeks or even months. After a while, though, the pancreas peters out and you’ll need to start taking insulin again. So, despite the respite from the honeymoon period, type 1 diabetes doesn’t go away. But researchers are working to find a cure, including ways to turn immature cells into beta cells that make insulin, for example, along with immunotherapy that would kill the immune cells that attack the pancreas in the first place.

What should I eat if I have type 1 diabetes?

An eating plan (sometimes called a meal plan) can help you manage your diabetes, along with taking insulin, fitting in physical activity, and checking your blood glucose. Many people find that trying to figure out what, when and how much to eat is the hardest part of managing diabetes, however. There is no one “diet” for people who have type 1 diabetes. Instead, your eating plan should be based on a number of factors, including your age, gender, level of physical activity, lifestyle, cultural preferences and other conditions that you may have, such as high blood pressure. In addition, the American Diabetes Association recognizes that many different types of eating patterns can work well for people with diabetes, including a vegetarian plan, a Mediterranean-style plan, and even a low-carbohydrate eating plan.

When you’re first diagnosed with diabetes, it’s helpful to meet with a dietitian who has experience with diabetes. He or she can tailor an eating plan that works for you, but that also takes into consideration the type of insulin you take as well as when you take it. Very likely, the emphasis will be on controlling the amount of carbohydrate foods you eat, such as bread, pasta, rice, fruit and milk, since carbohydrate is the nutrient that has the most effect on your blood glucose. Carbohydrate counting is an easy way to plan out meals and include variety in your food choices. Your eating plan should provide a balance of foods, including vegetables, fruit, whole grains and starches, healthy protein foods and healthy fats, not just for blood glucose management, but also to make sure you are getting the nutrients you need for overall health. Your eating plan may include snacks, although with the many newer forms of insulin available, snacks are often not necessary. And if you choose, you can even fit sweets into your eating plan. A dietitian can also help you fit in favorite foods, plan for holidays and navigate eating out at restaurants. In general, what you eat is what your spouse or family can eat, too, so there is generally no need to prepare separate meals for yourself.

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