Not Your Type

Imagine having to tell yourself to breathe in and breathe out, every single time.  Or, perhaps you had to pump your own heart.  Or, maybe you have to inject insulin into your body several times daily so that you can produce glucose, which is essentially fuel for every activity of your body.  And, if you didn’t fulfill these functions, you would certainly die.

The first two scenarios are absurd, of course.  Your body automatically does this rhythmically, all day, every day.  24/7, 365.  Your heart beats an average of 60 times per minute, and you breathe in and out without thinking about it around 20 times each minute.

You do, however, have to consciously eat good food to fuel your body.  Then, miraculously, your body takes that food, stores and uses the sugar to make everything work.  This happens with the indispensable help from the hormone insulin, which is the catalyst for energy production in your body.  Without it, you would have no energy for any activity, including your heartbeat.  It is to your body what gas is to your car.  As with any hormone, its job is that of a chemical messenger:  it tells other body processes to occur.

In Type One diabetes, the pancreas ceases to produce insulin.  This happens slowly, over a long period of time, until it reaches a breaking point.  When this point is reached, the person experiencing it typically begins to experience several of these many symptoms:

  • extreme thirst, even when drinking more fluids
  • more frequent urination
  • increased appetite, often accompanied by weight loss
  • fruity odor on the breath
  • drowsiness or lethargy, possibly stupor or unconsciousness
  • sudden vision changes

These symptoms should never be ignored, and are cause for immediate medical attention.

The previous name for Type One diabetes was Juvenile Diabetes, because its average onset age is 14, but ranges from early childhood through early adulthood.  It can, however, be diagnosed at any age.


Type One diabetes is known as an autoimmune disease, a disease that results when the immune system of the body recognizes the good cells as invaders, and begins to attack itself.  Its cause is unknown, but current research suggests a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

“I didn’t feel good for quite awhile.  I was tired all the time.  Then, I started to get real hungry, so I ate more, but I lost weight.  Then, I got thirsty and drank a lot more.  I went to the bathroom a lot more too.  One day, I realized I was having trouble seeing as good as I usually do, even with my glasses. I knew something was wrong.”        

–Lydia, age 17 and recently diagnosed with Type One diabetes.

Lydia’s daily routine will now consist of pricking her finger at least four times daily to measure her blood sugar, and injecting insulin into her leg, arm or stomach up to 4 times daily, depending on her blood sugar.  This will happen every day for the rest of her life.  She must replace the insulin her body no longer makes with injections, or she will not survive.  She did not cause this disease to occur by eating poorly, or by making any other unhealthy choices.  It simply happened.  While research is ongoing, there is no cure.

Other important information about Type One diabetes:

  • 1.25 million Americans live with it, including 200,000 people younger than 20.
  • One million adults live with Type One diabetes.
  • 40,000 people are diagnosed annually in the U.S.
  • Between 2001 and 2009, there was a 21% increase in prevalence (existing cases), and it is expected that there will be 5 million people in the U.S. with Type One diabetes by the year 2050.
  • $14 billion is lost annually in the U.S with related health-care costs and lost work income.


*There is no cure.

It is important not only to know the symptoms outlined above, but also to realize this:  it cannot be prevented.  It is not acquired by poor lifestyle choices, such as low activity and consuming unhealthy foods.

Type Two diabetes, however, is an entirely different diagnosis, and the distinctions between them are crucial:

  • In Type Two diabetes, insulin is made by the body, but not used properly.  It builds up in the bloodstream, thus causing high blood sugar.  It cannot get to the body’s cells in order to be used as it should be.
  • Lack of exercise and being overweight are the two most common causes, but not everyone falls into these categories.
  • There may be no symptoms before diagnosis.  Type Two diabetes is typically diagnoses in adulthood, but increasing numbers of children are being diagnosed with Type Two.
  • It can typically be prevented or delayed by eating the right foods—typically lower carbohydrates, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Type Two diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all diabetes diagnoses.




Being aware of the symptoms of Type One diabetes is crucial, and may be life-saving.  This awareness expedites the diagnosis, and the sooner the treatment begins, the better.  Without the treatment, life is threatened.  Continued vigilance is necessary throughout one’s life in order to maintain proper blood sugar levels.

Again, there is no cure, but research is ongoing.


Being aware that Type Two diabetes is generally preventable is crucial as well.  Healthy lifestyle choices and remaining active are the two most important factors in prevention of Type Two diabetes.  While certain factors may predispose some people to Type Two diabetes, it is manageable through diet, unlike Type One.

These predisposing factors include:

  • 45 years of age or older
  • high blood pressure
  • as a woman, having had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, or giving birth to a baby weighing over 9 pounds.
  • certain ethnicities are at higher risk:  African-American, Alaska native, Native American, Asian American, Hispanic or Latino, or Pacific Islander-American.


“I really hate that I have Type One diabetes.  I will have it for the rest of my life.  I am learning how to live with it, and I am feeling stronger.  Many other people live with it, I can too.  My mom gave me a shirt that says: ‘PROUD OWNER OF A USELESS PANCREAS.’ I will make the best of it.      Lydia, quoted earlier regarding her diagnosis.



May neither Type One nor Type Two be your type.  If you are diagnosed, however, please know your life can be lived to its fullest, just as many people with diabetes continue to live theirs.