Type 1 Diabetes: Symptoms and Causes

Learn what the most common causes and most common symptoms of Type 1 or childhood onset diabetes are.

While several possible causes of Type 1 diabetes exist, in all cases, the body’s ability to produce insulin is either compromised or completely destroyed. The human body depends on insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to maintain proper blood sugar levels. Insulin allows cells to convert blood sugar into energy. Without insulin, cells don’t receive the nourishment they need and so they starve.

Type 1 Diabetes Causes

The most common causes of  Type 1 diabetes include:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Heredity
  • Idiopathic diabetes

Autoimmune Disease

The human immune system generally does a good job of determining what should, or should not, be present in the body. When an autoimmune disease strikes however, the body’s natural defenses turn on the body itself. This is the most common cause of type 1 diabetes. The immune system perceives the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas as a threat and eradicates them. This condition is sometimes referred to as immune-mediated diabetes.


Diabetes does run in families. If you have a family history of diabetes, your health professional should be aware of it. Of course, diabetes can develop without any family history of the disease, and while a family history puts you at risk, it does not automatically follow that you will develop diabetes.

Idiopathic Type 1 Diabetes

In some rare cases, Type 1 diabetes develops without any apparent cause. This form of diabetes is known as idiopathic type 1 diabetes. Idiopathic diabetes is not common, but it can occur.

Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms

Some Type 1 diabetes symptoms are more noticeable than others. High blood sugar or low blood sugar are only identifiable through medical tests. Similarly, a high sugar content in urine is also detectable by your Doctor. Elevated sugar levels contribute to many of the symptoms of diabetes.

Some of the more apparent Type 1 diabetes symptoms include:

  • Excessive thirst and dehydration
  • Frequent urination
  • Hunger, accompanied by weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness, tiredness or sleepiness
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Sudden irritability

Diabetes symptoms can develop very quickly. Know what to look for if you’re at risk.

High Blood Sugar vs. Low Blood Sugar

high-low-blood-sugarDiabetes impairs the body’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels, leading to high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). Unfortunately, diabetics can also experience low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in the daily management of their blood sugar level. Both extremes have their own set of symptoms, which you can find listed on our Complications page. Keep in mind that the blood sugar values illustrated here refer to fasting values. Values measured after eating are often above 120.

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