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Type 1 Diabetes in Adults: New Diagnosis

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a disease that affects how your body makes insulin and uses glucose (sugar). Normally, when the blood sugar level increases, the pancreas makes more insulin. Insulin helps move sugar out of the blood so it can be used for energy. Type 1 diabetes develops because the immune system destroys cells in the pancreas that make insulin. The pancreas cannot make enough insulin, so the blood sugar level continues to rise. A family history of type 1 diabetes may increase your risk. Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin.

Pancreas

What are the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

  • More thirst than usual
  • Urinating often
  • Hunger most of the time
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Blurred vision

How is type 1 diabetes diagnosed?

Any of the following may be used to diagnose type 1 diabetes or to check that it is well controlled:

  • A random glucose test may be done any time of day, no matter how long ago you ate.
  • A fasting plasma glucose test may be done to check your blood sugar level after you have not eaten for 8 hours.
  • A 2-hour plasma glucose test starts with a blood sugar level check after you have not eaten for 8 hours. You are then given a glucose drink. Your blood sugar level is checked after 2 hours.
  • An A1c test shows the average amount of sugar in your blood over the past 2 to 3 months.

What is diabetes education?

Diabetes education will start right away. Diabetes education may also happen later to refresh your memory. Your diabetes care team may include physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. It may also include nurses, dietitians, exercise specialists, pharmacists, dentists, and podiatrists. Family members, or others who are close to you, may also be part of the team. You and your team will make goals and plans to manage diabetes and other health problems. The plans and goals will be specific to your needs. Members of your diabetes care team will teach you the following:

  • About your blood sugar level: You will learn what your blood sugar level should be. You will be given information on when and how to check your blood sugar level. You may need to check by testing a drop of blood in a glucose monitor. You may instead be given a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device. A sensor is placed into your abdomen or on your arm. You put a transmitter on the sensor to get a reading that shows up on the monitor. A CGM device can be used with or without an insulin pump. You will learn what to do if your level is too high or too low. Write down the times of your checks and your levels. Take them to all follow-up appointments.
    How to check your blood sugar
    Continuous Glucose Monitoring
  • About how insulin may be given: Insulin may be injected, or given through a pump or pen. You and your care team will discuss the best method for you:
    • An insulin pump is an implanted device that gives your insulin 24 hours a day. An insulin pump prevents the need for multiple insulin injections in a day.

    • An insulin pen is a device prefilled with the right amount of insulin.
      Insulin Pen
    • You or a family member will be taught how to give insulin injections if this is the best method for you. You will also be taught how to dispose of used needles and syringes.
    • You will learn how much insulin you need and what times to give insulin. You will be taught when not to give insulin. You will also be taught how to match the right amount of insulin with blood sugar levels, amount of activity, and amount of carbohydrates.
  • About nutrition: A dietitian will help you make a meal plan to keep your blood sugar level steady. You will learn how food affects your blood sugar levels. You will also learn to keep track of sugar and starchy foods (carbohydrates). You will learn why it is important not to skip meals. Your blood sugar level may drop too low if you have taken insulin and do not eat. You may be taught to use the plate method for portion control. With the plate method, ½ of your plate contains vegetables. The other half is divided so that ¼ contains protein or meat, and ¼ contains starches, such as potatoes.
    Plate Method
  • About physical activity and diabetes: You will learn why physical activity, such as exercise, is important. You and your provider will make a plan for your activity. Your provider will tell you what a healthy weight is for you. He or she will help you make a plan to get to that weight and stay there.
    Ways to Be Physically Active
    Strength Training for Adults

What else can I do to help manage type 1 diabetes?

  • Talk to your care team if you have increased stress about your diagnosis. Stress about your diagnosis can keep you from taking care of yourself properly. Your care team can help by offering tips about self-care. Your care team may suggest you talk to a mental health provider. The provider can listen and offer help with self-care issues.
  • Wear medical alert identification. Wear medical alert jewelry or carry a card that says you have diabetes. Ask your diabetes care team provider where to get these items.
    Medical Alert Jewelry
  • Know what to do if your blood sugar level is too low. Your blood sugar level is too low if it goes below 70 mg/dL. If the level is too low, eat or drink 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate. These are found naturally in fruits. Fast-acting carbohydrates will raise your blood sugar level quickly. Examples of 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate are 4 ounces (½ cup) of fruit juice or 4 ounces of a regular soft drink. Other examples are 2 tablespoons of raisins or 3 to 4 glucose tablets. Check your blood sugar level 15 minutes later. If the level is still low (less than 100 mg/dL), eat another 15 grams of carbohydrate. When the level returns to 100 mg/dL, eat a snack or meal that contains carbohydrates. This will help prevent another drop in blood sugar. Always carefully follow your provider's instructions on how to treat low blood sugar levels.
    Ways to Raise Your Blood Sugar
  • Know the risks if you choose to drink alcohol. Alcohol can cause your blood sugar levels to be low if you use insulin. Alcohol can cause high blood sugar levels and weight gain if you drink too much. Women 21 years or older and men 65 years or older should limit alcohol to 1 drink a day. Men aged 21 to 64 years should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage and make it more difficult to manage type 1 diabetes. Ask your provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine.
  • Check your feet each day for sores. Wear shoes and socks that fit correctly. Ask your care team for more information about foot care.
    Diabetic Foot Care
  • Ask about vaccines you may need. You have a higher risk for serious illness if you get the flu, pneumonia, COVID-19, or hepatitis. Ask your provider if you should get vaccines to prevent these or other diseases, and when to get the vaccines.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can happen if I do not manage type 1 diabetes?

Diabetes that is not controlled can damage your nerves, veins, and arteries. Long-term high blood sugar levels can damage your eyes and kidneys. Damage to arteries increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. Nerve damage may also lead to other heart, stomach, and nerve problems. Complications (health problems) of diabetes can become life-threatening. Control your blood sugar levels to lower your risk for health problems.

Have someone call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You cannot be woken.
  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest
    • You may also have any of the following:
      • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
      • Shortness of breath
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat

When should I call my diabetes care team provider immediately?

  • Your blood sugar level is above 240 mg/dL and does not come down with treatment.
  • You have signs of a high blood sugar level, such as blurred or double vision.
  • You have signs of a high ketone level, such as breath has a fruity, sweet smell, or your breathing is shallow.
  • You have symptoms of a low blood sugar level, such as trouble thinking, sweating, or a pounding heartbeat.
  • Your blood sugar level is lower than normal and does not improve with treatment.

When should I call my diabetes care team provider?

  • Your blood sugar levels are higher than your target goals.
  • You often have lower blood sugar levels than your target goals.
  • Your skin is red, dry, warm, or swollen.
  • You have a wound that does not heal.
  • You have trouble managing type 1 diabetes, or you feel anxious or depressed.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.