Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes may develop relatively slowly or very quickly, depending on several different factors. Often with juveniles the progression of the disease and the development of symptoms takes years, with the majority of individuals diagnosed in their early to mid teenage years. Some children may be diagnosed much younger while in some cases the individuals may be in their late teens or early adulthood before a diagnosis is made.

One complication that many older children and teens experience is that the symptoms may develop gradually and, because of the nature of the symptoms, they may not be reported to the parents. This is particularly true when frequent urination is present as many kids are embarrassed or simply don’t want to talk to parents about the problem. Often parents become aware because of complaints by the school of the child’s frequent requests to leave the classroom to go to the restroom.

Typical Symptoms Of Type 1 Diabetes

There are several hallmark symptoms of type 1 diabetes. As mentioned above sometimes people may not even be aware that they are exhibiting symptoms if they are slow to develop. However most parents of children with type 1 diabetes or older teens and adults will recognize the symptoms as a significant health issue and seek medical attention.

  • Increased thirst – the high osmotic pressure in the circulatory system caused by the elevated glucose levels results in dehydration of the cells. The glucose actually draws the fluids from the cells of the body, triggering the thirst response in the brain. Individuals with type 1 diabetes are constantly thirsty even when they are staying well hydrated. This is not to be confused with normal thirst when fluid consumption is low or during times of physical activity and sweating.
  • Increased urination – this includes both the volume of urine produced and the frequency of urination. This is also a function of the high levels of glucose in the blood, which then becomes high levels of glucose in the urine. When the body is functioning normally the kidneys work to filter out glucose and return it to the blood to be stored in the body for fuel. When there is too much glucose to be filtered, a significant amount of glucose remains in the urine. When the kidneys become overwhelmed with the amount of glucose, additional water that would otherwise be reabsorbed is lost through the urine. This in turn results in more dehydration but also in faster filling of the bladder as the kidneys literally work overtime to attempt to retain the higher and higher amounts of glucose.
  • Rapid weight loss – initially people may be pleased with their ability to lose weight, but the weight loss is rapid, unhealthy and not due to diet or increased exercise. The body is literally breaking down the muscle and fatty deposits in an attempt to find the glucose it needs but cannot access because of the lack of insulin. This breakdown of muscle and fatty tissue releases other metabolic compounds that can create additional health risks. The person that is exhibiting weight loss due to type 1 diabetes may have a normal or increased appetite and may be eating regular meals or even calorie dense foods as a means to try to get the glucose needed for the cells.
  • Neuropathy – this is a symptom of more advanced damage to the nerves of the body by constantly elevated blood glucose levels. The high blood sugar will damage the nerve endings, starting at the places most distant from the body core, which will result in feelings of numbness, tingling and phantom type sensations. This neuropathy can, with time, extend to other systems causing a condition known as cardiac autonomic neuropathy or CAN. In studies, it was found that CAN in type 1 diabetes patients results in arterial stiffness and decreased blood flow through the heart.2  Since CAN is often associated with coronary artery disease, a possible complication of diabetes, early detection and treatment of neuropathy is a positive preventative diagnosis.
  • Exhaustion and Fatigue – without any fuel for the cells and the constant breakdown of muscle tissue and fatty tissue storage in the body exhaustion and fatigue are obvious outcomes. This fatigue can also be connected with increased levels of irritability as the brain cells, which also need glucose, may not be processing the brain chemicals that control moods and emotions. In a study of adolescents with type 1 diabetes it was determined that high levels of anxiety and depression were reported when blood glucose levels were not monitored and glycemic control was not maintained. 3 In opposition those patients that regularly monitor and control their blood glucose levels have significantly less exhaustion and mood swings.

Skin rashes, dry skin and constant itchy skin coupled with cuts and lesions that are slow to heal may be a symptom of type 1 diabetes, but they can also be a symptom of many other conditions as well. If the blood glucose levels have been elevated for a significant amount of time blurred vision, due to dehydration of the tissues in the eye, can also be a symptom . Typically these symptoms will be seen in conjunction with the major symptoms listed above and not the most critical physical change that the patient reports.

References

1 Imagawa, A., Hanafusa, T., Miyagawa, J.-I., et al. (2000). A Novel Subtype of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus Characterized by a Rapid Onset and an Absence of Diabetes-Related Antibodies. The New England Journal of Medicine , 301-307.

2 Secrest, A. M., Marshall, S. L., Miller, R. G., et al. (2011). Pulse Wave Analysis and Cardiac Autonomic Neuropathy in Type 1 Diabetes: A Report from the Pittsburgh Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications Study. Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics .

3 Herzer, M., & Hood, K. K. (2010). Anxiety Symptoms in Adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes: Association with Blood Glucose Monitoring and Glycemic Control. The Journal of Pediatoric Psychology , 415-425.

This article was originally published July 12, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/10/2015.