Type 1 diabetes and kidney disease 

What is diabetes?

When you eat, much of the food is converted into glucose, a type of sugar which is one of the main sources of fuel for the body. Your pancreas creates insulin based on the size of the meal that you have eaten and the insulin then transports the glucose through the bloodstream to the cells of the body. If you have diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t create insulin or the insulin it creates is insufficient to keep glucose levels normal. Without insulin the glucose never makes it to the cells. Glucose then builds up in the bloodstream and circulates through the body. Some of it is removed from the body through urination. Since not enough glucose reaches the cells, they stop functioning properly and symptoms of diabetes develop. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 17 million Americans have diabetes and as many as one third of this group are not aware that they have it.

What are the different types of diabetes?

There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and gestational. Type 1 diabetes, sometimes called “juvenile diabetes” or “insulin-dependent diabetes,” is most often diagnosed in children and teenagers, but can occur at any age. Type 2 is the most common form – over 90% of people have this type of diabetes. It is also called “adult-onset diabetes,” because most people who get Type 2 diabetes are over 45 years old. The number of children and younger adults diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes has risen in recent years due to growing rates of obesity and inactivity in this age group. Gestational diabetes only occurs in pregnant women who did not have diabetes prior to pregnancy. 

What is Type 1 diabetes?

Most cases of Type 1 diabetes are associated with an autoimmune response. Autoimmune diseases happen when the part of the body responsible for fighting off infection (the immune system) begins to attack the body itself. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, beta cells in the pancreas (which create insulin) are attacked and destroyed. As a result, the body is unable to make insulin. Type 1 diabetes occurs in 10% of the people that have diabetes. 

What are the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes?

Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes usually develop quickly, over a period of days or weeks. These include: 

  • Severe thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss
  • Constant hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Exhaustion

How do I know if I have diabetes?

If you have any of the above symptoms, let your doctor know so that he or she can test you for diabetes. There are a number of different tests that your doctor may run but most have to do with checking the glucose level in your blood.

What causes Type 1 diabetes?

Doctors are still unclear as to what causes Type 1 diabetes. It generally occurs before a person reaches the age of 20, although it can occur later. The disease can be inherited, but doctors now suspect that environmental factors may be involved as well. Toxins, such as pollution, and/or viruses may be contributing causes. 

How are diabetes and kidney disease connected?

Because people with diabetes are not able to process glucose properly, it builds up in the bloodstream. Over time, this excess sugar damages blood vessels, including those inside the kidneys. The kidneys eventually become damaged and kidney function decreases. Dialysis or a kidney transplant may be necessary. Diabetes is the most common cause of chronic kidney disease. 

What can I do if I have diabetes and kidney disease?

If you have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, you will be required to take insulin injections daily. This will enable the glucose in your bloodstream to get to the cells in your body. The amount of insulin you need depends on your diet, how much exercise you get and any other health issues you may have. In order to ensure that you are getting a proper amount of insulin, you will monitor your glucose levels every day. Your doctor and health care team will work with you to make sure that you know how to properly test your blood, administer insulin shots and monitor your diet. 

In addition to the “normal” lifestyle changes that come with being diagnosed with diabetes, people with kidney disease will need to take additional precautions. For instance, smoking can be especially dangerous to diabetics with kidney disease. If you smoke, consider quitting. Also learn to follow a diabetic kidney diet, exercise regularly and avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. 


Although a relatively small number of people will be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, those people have a greater chance of also being diagnosed with kidney disease. If you have Type 1 diabetes, you will want to be extra cautious so you can avoid or delay kidney disease. If you have both Type 1 diabetes and kidney disease, you should work with your doctor and health care team to stay in control of both conditions. You will need to monitor your diet and avoid complicating factors such as smoking. By working with your doctor, getting regular check-ups, watching your diet and improving your general health, you may be able to minimize the effects of your Type 1 diabetes and kidney disease.

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