Basics to share with other caregivers

What is type 1 diabetes (T1D)?

T1D is a non-preventable autoimmune condition in which the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to use energy from the food they eat. T1D affects children and adults suddenly, and lasts a lifetime. Insulin is not a cure for diabetes nor does it prevent potential complications. T1D affects over 300,000 Canadian children, adolescents and adults, and can happen to anyone. It is not caused by anything the person or their parents did or did not do.


Symptoms of T1D

The onset of symptoms of T1D is quite rapid, over days and weeks rather than months. Common symptoms include: fruity odour on breath, heavy or laboured breathing, stupor or unconsciousness, extreme thirst, frequent urination, drowsiness or lethargy, increased appetite, sudden weight loss, and sudden vision changes.


T1D Self-Management

The main goal of T1D management is to keep blood glucose levels within a target range (not too high, not too low). The key to effective T1D management is a balance between food, exercise, insulin and growth.


Insulin Delivery Methods

Syringes, insulin pens, and insulin pumps all serve the same purpose: to deliver insulin to a person with T1D. To stay alive, people with T1D must take insulin. Choosing an insulin delivery method is a personal decision made by the individual, family (if a child), and medical provider. The same method may not be the right choice for everyone.

Injections (syringes and pens): The exact number of injections varies from person to person. Insulin injections typically occur at regularly scheduled times during the day (for example, before meals and at bedtime). The age at which children are able to administer their own injections varies.

Insulin pumps: An alternative to insulin injections is the insulin pump. The pump is a computerized device, about the size of a pager, often worn on a belt or in a pocket. It delivers a continuous infusion of insulin throughout the day, and a larger dose of insulin needs to be given with food. The pump must be worn at all times, although it can be removed for short periods of time (i.e. during a short bout of physical activity).


Blood Glucose Monitoring

People with T1D must check their blood glucose levels several times throughout the day using a blood glucose meter. The meter tells them how much glucose is in their blood at that particular moment. Based upon the reading they take insulin, eat, or modify activity to keep blood glucose levels within their individual target range. A person’s varying schedules and eating habits, as well as the physical changes that occur as they grow, can send blood glucose levels out of range for no apparent reason.


Food, Exercise, Illness and Stress

In basic terms, food raises blood glucose levels, while insulin and exercise lowers them. Although a person living with T1D is not restricted in their diet (if balanced with exercise and insulin), it is important for them to eat reasonably, consistently, and follow a schedule. Illness and stress often cause blood glucose levels to rise. It is important to remember that every child is unique and several factors affect blood glucose levels; therefore, each individual can respond differently to these experiences.