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What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that occurs when the blood sugar (glucose) is too high. Most of the food we eat is changed into glucose. Your body uses glucose for energy. Your blood carries glucose to all cells in the body. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It is needed to move glucose from the blood into the body cells where it is used for energy.

There are two types of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes your body stops making insulin because the body's immune system destroys the insulin producing cells (called beta cells) in the pancreas. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin injections every day. Although it can occur at any age, this type of diabetes occurs more often in children and young adults.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body cannot use insulin properly (called insulin resistance) or it does not make enough insulin. This type of diabetes is usually seen in adults who are overweight and less active. Due to obesity and inactivity this type of diabetes is increasing in children.

The elevated blood sugar that occurs in both types of diabetes can lead to other health problems. These health problems, called complications of diabetes, can lead to: blindness, loss of kidney function, nerve damage, heart and blood vessel disease, and foot, dental and skin problems.

TrialNet is studying ways to prevent type 1 diabetes from developing, and to enhance treatment for people with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes. The information that follows is about type 1 diabetes.

Symptoms that occur at onset of type 1 diabetes include extreme thirst, increased hunger, frequent urination,unexplained weight loss and tiredness. The onset of type 1 diabetes appears suddenly, but we know that insulin-producing cells are destroyed slowly over a period of several years.

Who Gets Type 1 Diabetes?

18.2 million people in the United States (6.3 percent of the population) have been diagnosed with diabetes. 5 to 10 percent of all people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes occurs equally among males and females. It is more common in whites than in nonwhites.

Although the cause of type 1 diabetes isn't known, it is likely that genetic and environmental factors work together to trigger the immune system to destroy the insulin producing cells. Relatives of people with type 1 diabetes are at a 10 to 15 percent greater risk for developing the disease.

What Treatments Exist for Type 1 Diabetes?

People with type 1 diabetes manage their diabetes by taking insulin everyday along with healthy eating and physical activity. The goal is to keep the blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. An important landmark study called the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) provided important evidence that maintaining blood sugars as close to normal as possible can help to prevent, or minimize, the occurrence of complications in people with type 1 diabetes.

There have been many advances in the treatment of type 1 diabetes. Newer types of insulin have been developed to offer more flexibility in eating patterns and lifestyle. Advances have been made in how insulin is given such as insulin pumps, and there is ongoing research to find ways of giving insulin without the need for injections.

TrialNet researchers are attempting to find ways of preventing or delaying the development of type 1 diabetes. This research is being done in relatives of people with type 1 diabetes because they are at greater risk for developing the disease.

TrialNet researchers are also trying to maintain the insulin producing cells that are present when type 1 diabetes is diagnosed. If even a little insulin production is preserved, this might help make the disease easier to treat.

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