Complications of Type 1 Diabetes: Here’s What You Can do!!

Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)
Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)

General Physician | 6+ years

Complications of Type 1 Diabetes
Living with diabetes, hypertension or any other chronic disease requires you to do multiple things – track vitals, take medicines & stay on top of your health at all times. If this overwhelms you, switch to Phable – India’s No. 1 BP & Sugar Management App to manage your condition better. Take charge of your health and stay connected with doctors, order medicines and do a whole lot more from the comfort of your home.

Nobody likes the term “complications”. The term conveys a feeling that it may be too late to do something about it now. Take Type 1 Diabetes, for example. What are the complications of Type 1 Diabetes? Can the complications be prevented or treated effectively? Let us find out.

Contents:
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    What Causes Complications in Type 1 Diabetes?
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    What are the Complications of Type 1 Diabetes?
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    How to Prevent Type 1 Diabetes Complications?
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    Don’t Have Time To Read?
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    FAQs
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What Causes Complications in Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 Diabetes mellitus, known simply as Type 1 Diabetes, is a chronic condition caused by an autoimmune disorder. In Type 1 Diabetes, your immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing β-cells in your pancreas. This results in little to no insulin production in your body.

Your body digests the food you eat and breaks it down into glucose (sugar). Insulin helps regulate the amount of sugar present in your blood. This glucose gets absorbed into your bloodstream and is transported to your cells, which convert the glucose into energy. 

In the absence of insulin, as seen in Type 1 Diabetes, the blood sugar level increases in your body. This circulating blood carries a high concentration of glucose and makes contact with every part of your body. 

Over a long period of time, if Type 1 Diabetes is left untreated or is poorly managed, high blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels. Damaged blood vessels cannot transport blood to the parts of your body efficiently. This results in problems with the functioning of your nerves as well, resulting in loss of feeling in parts of your body. 

Damaged blood vessels and nerves in one part of your body increase the likelihood of similar problems developing in other parts of your body. For example, damage to your feet could increase the chances of serious problems with your heart. 

If Type 1 Diabetes is accompanied by health conditions such as high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, these can damage your blood vessels further when combined with high blood sugar and increase your risk of developing complications. 

Let’s find out what are the main complications of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus.

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What are the Complications of Type 1 Diabetes?

There seem to be several typical complications of Diabetes Mellitus, irrespective of whether it is Type 1 or Type 2.

When Type 1 Diabetes is left untreated, it can lead to acute and chronic complications, which can cause disabilities and even be life-threatening. What complications can Type 1 Diabetes cause? Let’s see. 

Acute Complications of Type 1 Diabetes

Acute or short-term complications can happen at any time and may lead to chronic (long-term) complications.

Hypoglycaemia:

Hypoglycaemia, simply meaning low blood glucose, is a condition that occurs when your fasting blood glucose levels drop below 70 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). 

Low blood sugar levels can be due to skipped meals, eating too little, taking too much insulin, or not planning your insulin doses properly around your meals and exercise. Overexertion, sickness, or consuming alcohol while on medication can also cause low blood sugar levels in Type 1 Diabetes.

You may experience the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, paleness of skin, sleepiness, headache, confusion, slurred speech, and numbness in your limbs.

Hypoglycaemia needs to be managed immediately by increasing your blood sugar levels by consuming fast-acting carbohydrates as per the “15-15 rule”.

For severe hypoglycemia (blood sugar below 55 mg/dL), you will need external help to recover and the administration of glucagon, a pancreatic hormone that stimulates your liver to release stored glucose into your bloodstream. 

Hyperglycaemia:

It is a condition that occurs when your fasting blood glucose levels are above 125 mg/dL due to insufficient insulin in your body to convert glucose into energy. 

This may happen when you skip your medications or eat more carbohydrates than your body can handle or over-treat hypoglycemia. It can also happen if you are stressed or unwell. 

The symptoms of hyperglycemia are the same as Type 1 Diabetes symptoms and include excess thirst, increased hunger, frequent urination, fatigue, and blurred vision.

You can manage high blood sugar levels by taking medications on time, controlling your diet by carb counting, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, and managing stress.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis:

If you have your blood glucose level above 250 mg/dL, there is a high chance that you will develop diabetic ketoacidosis. It is a life-threatening complication of Type 1 Diabetes. Among Type 1 Diabetes complications, ketoacidosis is fairly common and in many cases, is the first indication that a person has Type 1 Diabetes. 

When your body cannot produce enough insulin and is unable to use the glucose in your blood to generate energy, it starts breaking down stored fat to use as fuel. Your liver processes these fats and turns them into ketones.

The presence of too many ketones in your blood can turn it acidic and cause symptoms like fruity-scented breath, vomiting, dry skin or mouth, flushing, headache,  weight loss, abdominal pain, confusion, weakness, cold skin, etc.

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious condition and needs urgent medical attention. Treatment includes being given intravenous insulin and fluids or nutrients through a vein to rehydrate and replenish the body with nutrients.

Chronic Complications of Type 1 Diabetes 

Chronic complications of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus are long-term complications that develop gradually and cause severe damage to various parts of your body.

Diabetic Retinopathy:

High blood glucose levels can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in your eyes, resulting in the leaking of fluid, weakening and breaking of old blood vessels, and development of new, fragile blood vessels. You may experience blurred vision and dark spots, and may even develop partial or complete loss of eyesight. Type 1 diabetics may also develop cataracts

Diabetic Neuropathy:

High blood glucose levels in Type 1 Diabetes can cause diabetic neuropathy, which includes damage to your peripheral, autonomic, proximal, and focal nerves. The most common damage is to the peripheral nerves in your limbs and hands. Nerve damage can cause tingling, numbness, or pain in your limbs, with the symptoms gradually progressing to partial or complete loss of sensation.

Due to a lack of blood supply to your limbs, Type 1 Diabetes may cause delayed healing of wounds. If left untreated, it may lead to further infection and require surgery to keep the infection from spreading.

The damaged nerves also cause difficulty in carrying signals between the brain and other parts of the body and can affect the way you see, hear, feel, and move.

Diabetic Nephropathy:

When the small and delicate blood vessels in and around your kidneys are damaged, it can make it difficult for your kidney to filter out the waste from the fluids in your body or cause kidney infections, leading to kidney failure.

When your kidneys begin to have problems they release more proteins in urine. 

Heart Attack and Stroke:

Unrelenting high blood glucose levels can damage the arteries that supply blood to your heart and other major organs. When cholesterol from your diet accumulates in the damaged artery walls, it can lead to the clogging, narrowing and stiffening of your blood vessels, which can reduce or cut off the blood and oxygen supply to your heart. This can damage your heart tissue and cause various cardiac problems, in some cases, even a heart attack.

Similarly, when the arteries that supply blood to your brain are damaged, it can cause a temporary reduction or loss of blood and oxygen supply to your brain tissue. This is called an ischemic stroke and can cause varying degrees of brain damage.

To prevent heart attack or stroke due to diabetes, along with managing blood glucose levels you should also keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under check.

Gum Disease:

Individuals with diabetes may also experience gum disease, also called gingivitis. The excess sugar in your blood can increase the sugar concentration in your saliva, which results in the accumulation of bacteria on and around your tooth and gums. If the infection of gums is left untreated, it may spread to your jawbone and lead to the loss of a tooth.

The signs and symptoms include bad breath, swollen red gums, and loosening of your teeth. 

Sexual problems:

The damage to blood vessels can cause a lack of blood supply to sexual organs, which may result in loss of sensation and difficulty in getting aroused. High blood sugar levels may also cause erectile dysfunction in men. 

In women, high blood sugar levels and damaged blood vessels and nerves can mean restricted blood flow to the sexual organs and loss of sensation. High blood sugar levels also increase the chances of urinary tract infections.

How to Prevent Type 1 Diabetes Complications?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent Type 1 Diabetes at present, as the exact cause of the condition is still unknown. However, research is ongoing on ways to identify individuals who are at a risk for developing Type 1 Diabetes and preventing it before the beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed. 

Do all Type 1 Diabetics have complications? No, the complications are not inevitable. The complications of Type 1 Diabetes can be prevented with medications and appropriate lifestyle changes. Some tips for preventing these complications include:

  • Monitor your blood glucose regularly

    and report to your doctor if you notice any major changes. Monitoring your blood glucose levels can today be done from the comfort of your home using multiple ways. Check your blood sugar before and after meals and before you go to sleep. Take steps to treat high blood sugar at the earliest.

  • Take insulin and other medications on time

    for effective blood glucose control. Do not miss out on medication and follow your doctor’s advice for the same. 

  • Have a balanced diet

    including foods from all the major categories like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, dairy, lean meat, etc. in the right amount. This can help you obtain all the essential nutrients that your body needs and manage your blood sugar level.

  • Exercise regularly

    and try a physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. This enables your body’s muscles to use up the glucose present in your bloodstream and lower your blood sugar levels, which can also reduce your daily dose of insulin. Exercising regularly can also help you lose weight.

  • Go for detailed checkups

    often. Monitor your diabetes, and look out for problems, especially with organs at a high risk of complications, such as your eyes, kidney, and heart. You should also get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked at least once a year. 

  • Quit smoking

    if you do smoke. Smoking makes it more difficult for blood to circulate through your body to your heart and feet and increases the risk of several diabetes complications. 

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, where your immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing β-cells in your pancreas. This results in increased blood sugar levels in your body, which eventually damage blood vessels and affects the functioning of various organs.
  • Type 1 Diabetes can cause acute (short-term and sudden) and chronic (long-term) complications. The acute complications include hyperglycaemia, hypoglycaemia, and diabetic ketoacidosis.
  • The chronic complications of Type 1 Diabetes include diabetic retinopathy, neuropathy, nephropathy, heart disease, gum disease, and sexual problems.
  • The complications of Type 1 Diabetes can be prevented by managing your blood glucose levels. This can be effectively done by monitoring the blood glucose level regularly, taking insulin medications on time, incorporating a balanced diet in your routine, exercising regularly, taking regular health checkups to diagnose any complications related to diabetes, and quitting smoking.
  • Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading diabetologists, order medicines, book lab tests, integrate blood sugar monitoring and other devices to get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Also, check out our Diabetes Management program which provides ‎360º care. Let’s treat diabetes together.

Frequently Asked Questions

Type 1 Diabetes, if left untreated, can cause several long-term complications. High blood sugar levels may damage your blood vessels and affect your vision, and the healing process of wounds, especially in your limbs. It can also affect the functioning of your heart and kidney and affect your oral and sexual health.

Yes, Type 1 Diabetes, if left untreated, can affect brain function. High blood glucose levels can damage the blood vessels and nerves that supply blood to your brain, which can result in depression, inability to focus, and delayed response to stimuli and in severe situations, even a stroke..

Diabetic ketoacidosis is one of the acute (short-term and sudden) complications of Type 1 Diabetes. The warning signs of diabetic ketoacidosis are excessive thirst, frequent urination, stomach pain, flushed face, headache, muscle stiffness, nausea, vomiting, fruity-scented breath, weakness, confusion, and shortness of breath.

Diabetic neuropathy is one of the most common complications of Type 1 Diabetes. High blood sugar levels can cause damage to your nerves, especially those that supply blood to your limbs. This may lead to pain and numbness in your hands and legs

Dr. Pakhi Sharma
Dr. Pakhi Sharma, MBBS
(General physician, 6+ years)
An expert in obstetrics and medical emergencies, Dr. Pakhi Sharma, an alumni of Sri Devaraj Urs University of Higher Education and Research Centre, is a general physician working at Phablecare. She has 6+ years of work experience spread across gynaecology and obstetrics, family medicine, and medical emergencies at renowned hospitals and clinics.

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