What You Need to Know About Type 1 Diabetes in Adults

September 02,2021 |
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Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects over 30 million Americans. In addition, over 85 million Americans currently have prediabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. As many people know, once diabetes occurs it is a life-long condition that requires continuous management and care. While most cases of type 1 diabetes occur in children or younger adults and type 2 diabetes tends to affect older generations, type 1 diabetes can occur at any age. Here, we’ll tell you what you need to know about type 1 diabetes in adults.


Different Types of Diabetes

When diabetes first became a recognized condition, there were two subsets: juvenile diabetes and adult diabetes. However, as more information has been unveiled, we now know that diabetes is more complicated than that. First of all, there are different types of diabetes that can be present in both children and adults. Second, diabetes can occur at any age of life. To clarify, the different types of diabetes are as follows.


Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disorder. This is where your body’s immune system attacks and kills the cells in the pancreas that are responsible for making insulin. Therefore, those living with type 1 diabetes cannot produce their own insulin.


Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is more of a condition regarding insulin resistance. People’s bodies still produce insulin, but they’re not able to properly process it enough for the insulin to have substantial effects on blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes.


Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. In most instances, it disappears after delivery, but it can cause certain complications to both mom and baby.



Prediabetes is simply the term used when your blood glucose levels are high, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. If you have prediabetes, it’s important to do what you can to get healthy and prevent it from becoming type 2 diabetes.


Information on Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA)

While many people used to think that only children could get type 1 diabetes (originally juvenile diabetes), this isn’t true. Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age throughout your life. In fact, there are a few differences between type 1 diabetes that develops during adulthood and type 1 diabetes that develops during early years. Sometimes, adults with this “slow-motion” type 1 diabetes can go for months, even years, without starting insulin. While the term latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) is sometimes used amongst those affected by it, it’s not an officially recognized term and many leading medical organizations do not use it. The only professional organization that does recognize LADA is the Immunology of Diabetes Society. They define LADA as the diagnosis of diabetes in a person over 40 with a presence of any islet cell antibody and a lack of necessity for insulin for at least 6 months. Some people see LADA as a completely different type of diabetes, while many people believe it’s just an offset of the medically recognized type 1 diabetes. To make sure that you’re getting the right care, regardless of what you call type 1 diabetes in adults, it’s essential that you work with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan available.


Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes in Adults

Understanding common type 1 diabetes symptoms is important to ensure that you recognize problems early so you can seek medical treatment. When type 1 diabetes begins in adulthood, it’s common for symptoms to appear suddenly and without warning. Some of the primary type 1 diabetes symptoms in adults include a consistent and persistent thirst, increased urination, weight loss, and fatigue. These symptoms are often referred to as the 4Ts and are the same symptoms for type 1 diabetes that develops during younger years. Other symptoms can present themselves as well and if you notice any signs of emergency diabetes symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Some emergency type 1 diabetes symptoms include:

The above symptoms could be an indication that an individual is experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is dangerous and can be life threatening when not treated.


Diagnosing Diabetes in Adults

Oftentimes, type 1 diabetes that begins in adulthood presents itself in the same way that type 1 diabetes occurs in children or younger individuals. However, in some instances, adults may discover that they have elevated blood sugar levels through a routine check-up and aren’t displaying any symptoms that would indicate a metabolic crisis. This can cause doctors to assume that the condition is type 2 diabetes. Only after treatments begin to fail do individuals realize that the condition is an autoimmune disease and therefore, diagnosed as type 1 diabetes. To make sure that you’re properly diagnosed, your doctor may recommend insulin antibody tests alongside traditional diabetes testing. This can help determine whether or not your diabetes is related to an autoimmune disorder, thus allowing you to properly treat it without risking severe complications in later years. If you begin noticing any symptoms of diabetes, talk to your doctor for diagnostic testing.


Causes of Diabetes in Adults

Type 1 diabetes in adults is caused by your immune system destroying insulin producing cells. This is the same cause of type 1 diabetes in children. Many people speculate why this autoimmune disorder appears during later years if it didn’t present itself during early adolescent development. It seems that adult-onset type 1 diabetes is simply a slower process, thus reducing the amount of insulin dependency on those affected. While there is a “honeymoon phase,” eventually type 1 diabetes that occurs in adults will result in complete dependency on insulin, much like type 1 diabetes that develops in children. Adult-onset type 1 diabetes does not seem to be genetically inherited.


Complications of Type 1 Diabetes in Adults

Regardless of the speculated differences in adult-onset type 1 diabetes and type 1 diabetes that develops at an early age, it’s important to understand that you still have the same risks of all the various complications. Therefore, the proper treatment plan is essential to staying healthy and boosting your longevity.

Some of the primary complications of type 1 diabetes include:

- Heart disease

- Nerve damage

- Kidney damage

- Eye damage

- Foot ulcers

- Skin conditions

- Pregnancy complications

- Stroke

To avoid these complications, and many others, you need to properly manage your diabetes and regularly check your blood sugar levels. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.


Treating Type 1 Diabetes in Adults

The best way to treat and manage type 1 diabetes in adults is through the use of insulin. However, the timing of insulin treatment can vary based on the severity or extent of your diabetes. In some, it’s been found that using oral medications or very small amounts of insulin is effective at managing the condition. In others, continuous glucose monitoring and regularly injecting insulin is essential. Since the timing of when to use insulin and how much varies significantly from adult to adult, you’ll need to work closely with your doctors to determine the best course of action. Always keep an open line of communication with your doctor and let them know if there are any changes, side effects, or symptoms of further problems.


Living with Diabetes in Adults

Regardless of if you’re diagnosed with diabetes as a child, adolescent, teen, or adult, you’re going to need to make some lifestyle changes to stay healthy. The problem is that adults who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes tend to already have very firm or established habits, making change more difficult. On a positive side, adults who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and who manage it properly are less likely to develop more serious complications since the condition doesn’t have as long to affect other organs.

Being diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes may cause mental or emotional challenges, but you can still do the things you love every day. The best way to ensure that you’re managing your diabetes is to eat a healthy, nutritious diet, limit alcohol consumption, get plenty of exercise, prioritize a healthy sleep schedule, and make sure that you’re managing any signs of diabetes distress.

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