The digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose. This simple sugar is then transported to each cell via the bloodstream. The pancreas secretes the hormone insulin, which allows the glucose to migrate from the blood into the cells. Once inside a cell, the glucose is ‘burned’, along with oxygen, to produce energy. The pancreas of a person with type 1 diabetes doesn’t make enough insulin to keep blood glucose normal.
Without insulin, the glucose remains in the bloodstream at high levels. The body recognises the problem and tries to provide the cells with other sources of fuel, such as stored fats. Extensive fat burning can release by-products called ketones, which are dangerous in high amounts.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:
- excessive thirst
- frequent urination
- weight loss
- visual disturbances, such as blurred vision
- itching skin, particularly around the genitals
- nausea and vomiting.
Complications of untreated diabetes
Untreated diabetes can severely damage many systems, organs and tissues of the body. Complications include:
- kidney damage
- increased likelihood of infections such as thrush and also more serious infections
- damage to the eyes (diabetic retinopathy)
- poor blood circulation in the legs and feet, potentially leading to lower limb amputation
- damage to the nerves of the feet
- much higher risk of heart disease and stroke
- sexual impotence.