What is Type 1 Diabetes?

I'm glad you've looked at this page ♥️

When our son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I really didn't know what it was and why he had got it. I, like most people, associated the word 'diabetes' with eating too much sugar. This is far from the case – and that symptom is associated with type 2 diabetes which is very different to type 1.

A doctor in Starship Hospital explained to me that no, it wasn't anything I, as a parent, or Grayson, had done to cause it. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease. An auto-immune disease happens when the body's natural defence system can't tell the difference between your own cells and foreign cells, causing the body to mistakenly attack normal cells. 

In type 1 diabetes case, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin have been mistakenly attacked and destroyed by the body. Insulin is a hormone that the body produces to regulate glucose levels. Glucose in our blood is converted into energy for our bodies by insulin. People living with type 1 diabetes, like Grayson, need insulin injected into their bodies to replace the insulin that the body can’t produce.

This condition will never go away, get better or fix itself until a cure is found. People with type 1 have to learn how to control it to stay alive.

Grayson doesn't look sick, and you can’t tell from the outside, unless you see that he has to wear an insulin pump which is attached to him via needle site 24/7, or that you can see the cgm (continuous glucose monitor) which is attached to his arm 24/7, or the scars on his fingertips (from checking his blood glucose with a finger pricker), that he is living with type 1 diabetes.

He can do the same things as everybody else, he (or me until he is old enough to take care of himself) just has to approach things differently to make sure he manages his blood glucose levels. Too much insulin can cause him to go hypoglycemic (low) and not enough insulin can cause a hyperglycemic (high) event. The idea is to keep his blood glucose levels in a normal range 24/7. Normal is between 4-7mmol/L. When Grayson was diagnosed, his blood glucose was 24mmol/L.

You would think this was easy – but it's far from easy. Everything affects your blood glucose levels, from the obvious such as food and exercise, to the not so obvious and harder to control like growth, hormones, stress and excitement.

If we don't keep Grayson's levels in a normal range 24/7 and he has a lot of high blood glucose (BG) episodes, then later in life it will show up as long-term side effects which include damage to large and small blood vessels, which can lead to heart attack and stroke, and problems with the kidneys, eyes, feet and nerves.

Blood glucose that's either too high or too low, for too long, may cause serious conditions, all of which can lead to a diabetic coma.

What happens when he has a hypo?
When Grayson's BG goes under 4mmol/L, he starts to feel very sick, dizzy and hungry. When his level goes under 3mmol/L, he starts to get upset, feel tired, gets sweaty and lethargic, and generally feels awful. When he goes under 2mmol/L, which we have only experienced twice since being diagnosed, he starts to feel very sleepy on top of all the other symptoms – this is very scary. If he doesn't get a burst of glucose to up his BG level he can go unconscious and go into a diabetic coma – which is potentially fatal. If caught at 4mmol/L, we can treat the low, with a small amount of juice or lollies, to bring his level back up to normal level – followed by a measured amount of carbohydrates to keep him at a stable level.

What happens when he has a hyper?
Grayson's symptoms of a hyper include: increased thirst, needing to urinate frequently, tiredness, a sore tummy, and his behaviour takes a turn for the the worst. These are the symptoms I noticed when I took him to the doctor when he was diagnosed – as well as the long term symptom of weight loss.

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis is when your muscle cells become starved for energy (during a hyper) and your body starts responding by breaking down fat stores. This process forms toxic acids known as ketones. If you have ketones (measured in the blood or urine) and high blood glucose, the condition is called diabetic ketoacidosis. Left untreated, it can lead to a diabetic coma and death.

Around 26,000 people have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in New Zealand, with 2500 of those being children.

I hope this has helped you understand what type 1 diabetes is – and you can understand why I want more awareness ♥️