Type 1 Diabetes

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The body’s immune system does not recognize the cells in the pancreas that make insulin (beta cells) and attacks and destroys these cells. As a result, the body is unable to produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in the blood.

Rediscovering centuries-old wisdom

Boston Children’s researchers argue that low-carb diets might help transform clinical care for today’s diabetics.

Male doctor and woman with blood glucose monitor reading 4.5

How common is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children. About one in every 400 children in the United States develops type 1 diabetes.

People at any age, from toddlers to adults, can be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. However, most children with type 1 diabetes are diagnosed between the ages of 4 to 6 or during puberty, between the ages of 10 and 14.

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not known. Infections or environmental factors may trigger the immune system to destroy the beta cells. Family history may also contribute to the risk of developing diabetes. 

What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is an organ located in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach. It secretes two hormones, insulin and glucagon, that help regulate the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood.

What is insulin?

Insulin helps glucose enter the cells of the body. When glucose enters the cells, it can be used to produce energy, or it can be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen for later use. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, starving the body’s cells of energy.

Children with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day — by injection or using an insulin pump — and regularly monitor their glucose levels. Insulin cannot be taken by mouth because the digestive system would destroy it.

What is the long-term impact of type 1 diabetes?

By closely managing their blood sugar with insulin, diet, and exercise, most people with diabetes live long, healthy lives.

Over a period of many years, high glucose levels can cause damage to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

Lifelong insulin treatment is essential for people with type 1 diabetes. Maintaining healthy glucose levels over the long term greatly reduces your child’s risk of developing diabetes complications later in life. Your diabetes team will teach you how to balance insulin, food, and exercise to maintain safe and healthy blood glucose levels.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is caused by an immune system attack on the pancreas that impairs insulin production. Experts are not sure why some children develop type 1 diabetes. Children whose parents or close relatives have type 1 diabetes are at greater risk of developing the disease. Being exposed to a virus may trigger type 1 diabetes in these children.

What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes can appear quickly, seemingly out of nowhere. They include:

  • frequent urination
  • extreme thirst
  • extreme hunger
  • weight loss
  • cuts or bruises that take a long time to heal
  • blurry vision
  • fatigue

Learn more about warning signs of new onset diabetes for patients and families:


Tips in English for addressing diabetes. 


Tips in Spanish for addressing diabetes. 


Tips in Creole for addressing diabetes. 


Tips in Portugese for addressing diabetes. 

Simplified Chinese

Tips in Simplified Chinese for addressing diabetes. 

Traditional Chinese

Tips in Traditional Chinese for addressing diabetes. 

What are the risks of type 1 diabetes?

A child with type 1 diabetes is at risk for other autoimmune diseases, including autoimmune thyroid disease, celiac disease, and in rare cases, Addison’s disease.

How we care for type 1 diabetes

The Diabetes Program at Boston Children’s Hospital is one of the largest pediatric diabetes centers in North America. We treat over 2,000 patients with diabetes each year and have demonstrated success in improving diabetes outcomes. Our integrated team brings together pediatric endocrinologists, diabetes nurse educators, registered dietitians, and behavioral specialists who work with you and your child to develop an appropriate diabetes treatment plan. 

We provide comprehensive services for infants, children, adolescents, and young adults with all types of diabetes. This includes type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, steroid-induced diabetes, and other, rare forms of diabetes.

Our services include:

  • diagnostic evaluation
  • management of the acute complications of diabetes
  • long-term management and follow-up care

Diabetes technology

We are committed to helping our patients with type 1 diabetes access diabetes technologies that are right for them, including smart insulin pens, insulin pumps, and continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices. We can also help you access hybrid closed-loop systems that integrate data from a patient’s CGM device with their insulin pump to control their glucose levels with greater consistency.