What is Juvenile Diabetes?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 January 2019
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Juvenile diabetes, better known as Type I or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a form of diabetes mellitus which is characterized by an inability to produce insulin as a result of an autoimmune disorder. Put less formally, patients with Type I diabetes have immune systems which have decided to attack the cells which produce insulin, a compound which is critical to the metabolism. As a result of reduced or nonexistent insulin production, the patient's body is not able to process glucose, resulting in a wide array of medical problems.

People used to call Type I diabetes “juvenile diabetes” because it often emerged in childhood or adolescence, but adults can get it as well. Type I is the most severe form of diabetes, and it is also the most rare. In addition to juvenile diabetes, it is also possible for people to get Type II diabetes, also known as “adult-onset diabetes,” although this is also a misnomer. Gestational diabetes is another form of diabetes which emerges in some pregnant women.


Type I diabetes is severe because it involves a fundamental malfunction of the immune system. When the confused immune system attacks the cells which produce insulin, it causes permanent damage, forcing the patient to take insulin replacement therapy. The insulin breaks down glucose, providing energy for the cells to use. Without insulin, glucose would be expressed in the urine without ever being used by the body, and patients would be at risk of ketoacidosis, a condition caused by a buildup of acids in the blood.

Untreated or poorly managed juvenile diabetes can lead to organ damage and neuropathy, causing vision problems, poor circulation in the legs and feet, and eventual organ failure. Management of Type I diabetes is approached from a number of perspectives. First, the patients try to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly to keep themselves in good physical condition. Patients also perform regular self-tests to check for glucose in their blood. Finally, patients use insulin therapy, providing their bodies with the insulin they need. Insulin therapy must be used for life to manage the diabetes.

This type of diabetes is usually diagnosed after a doctor reviews the symptoms with the patient and takes a blood test to check for blood glucose levels. The earlier it is caught, the better the prognosis for the patient, because the patient can start managing the diabetes before it causes permanent damage to the body. While juvenile diabetes can sometimes be difficult or frustrating to manage, patients can live very active, healthy lives with this condition.



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