Children's Hospital Colorado

Type 1 Diabetes

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone that our bodies need to convert sugar, starches and other food into the energy we need for daily life. The body needs insulin to allow energy-producing sugars called glucose into its cells. Without it, glucose builds up in the bloodstream. Over time, high blood glucose levels can cause health problems.

Diabetes has no cure, but there are actions you can take to manage diabetes and stay healthy.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system (which normally fights harmful bacteria and viruses) destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This causes the body to stop making insulin over time. With type 1 diabetes, the body is actually attacking itself.

A family history (genetics) of type 1 diabetes may be a cause of type 1 diabetes. There are also causes from the environment, but we do not have a good understanding of what those causes are.

Who gets type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes commonly begins in childhood and adolescence. Even though the condition and symptoms of type 1 diabetes tend to manifest early in life, adults can also develop type 1 diabetes. Children with a strong family history of autoimmune disease are at a higher risk for developing type 1 diabetes. Children who have a history of thyroid problems or celiac disease may also be at higher risk for developing diabetes.

What's the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Both types of diabetes are chronic conditions that affect the way the body regulates blood sugar (glucose). Insulin is the key that allows glucose (the body's fuel) to enter its cells. For type 1 diabetes, kids don't produce insulin, so their bodies are missing the key they need.

Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1 diabetes because their pancreas still makes insulin, but it can't produce enough insulin to overcome the body's insulin resistance. When it comes to type 2 diabetes in children, this key is broken; their bodies can't use insulin properly (a condition known as insulin resistance) or they can't produce enough insulin.

Another major difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes is that type 1 diabetes is not preventable, while type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by adhering to a healthy lifestyle.

Get to know our pediatric experts.

Lauren Gulley, PhD

Lauren Gulley, PhD

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Jennifer De Groot, FNP

Jennifer De Groot, FNP

Certified Family Nurse Practitioner

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Jayne Williams, CPNP

Jayne Williams, CPNP

Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

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Kristen Nadeau, MD, MS

Kristen Nadeau, MD, MS

Endocrinology - Pediatric

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