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8 Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms: Frequent Urination, Weight Loss, and More

Medically reviewed by Angelica Balingit, M.D.
Written by Emily Wagner, M.S.
Posted on February 7, 2024

Although type 1 diabetes can take several years to develop, many people seem to notice the symptoms suddenly. High blood sugar levels from type 1 diabetes affect several of the body’s systems and can lead to a wide variety of symptoms. Once symptoms begin, they can become severe very quickly.

Since type 1 diabetes commonly develops in children and teenagers, parents and caregivers need to keep an eye out for any symptoms in their loved ones. Adults can also develop type 1 diabetes and should be aware of warning signs. In this article, we’ll cover eight symptoms of type 1 diabetes to know.

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms?

Type 1 diabetes is a condition that causes high blood glucose (sugar) levels due to a lack of the hormone insulin. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that attacks the pancreas, the organ responsible for making insulin. The immune system makes antibodies (specialized proteins) that attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

The body’s cells need insulin to take up and use sugar for fuel. Without enough insulin, cells can’t use sugar, which causes blood sugar levels to rise. People with type 1 diabetes develop symptoms after their blood sugar levels become high enough to interfere with their normal bodily functions.

On the other hand, people with type 2 diabetes are insulin resistant. This means that their pancreas makes enough insulin but their cells don’t respond to it. As a result, type 2 diabetes also causes high blood glucose levels. People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes may experience similar symptoms.

Below are eight symptoms of type 1 diabetes to know. If you or your child is experiencing any combination of these symptoms, make an appointment with a doctor. They can run tests to check your blood sugar levels and make a type 1 diabetes diagnosis.

1. Frequent Urination and Extreme Thirst

One of the first noticeable signs of type 1 diabetes may be polyuria — frequent urination in larger-than-normal amounts. Normally when the kidneys filter blood, they reabsorb glucose for the body to use. People with type 1 diabetes have too much glucose in their blood, which ends up being excreted in their urine.

One sign that a person is experiencing polyuria is extra trips to the bathroom as their body tries to clear out the excess glucose. Young children with type 1 diabetes may also wet the bed, even if they’ve never done so before.

Glucose pulls extra water out of the body, which can lead to polyuria and dehydration. To compensate for water loss, a person may have polydipsia (extreme thirst) and dry mouth. Their body is trying to replace all the water they’ve lost, making them drink more and more. Dehydration from type 1 diabetes may also cause dizziness, nausea, headaches, and even fainting.

If you or your child are experiencing frequent urination accompanied by extreme thirst, call your doctor. Untreated dehydration can also lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a life-threatening complication of type 1 diabetes.

2. Unexplained Weight Loss

People with undiagnosed type 1 diabetes may also experience unexplained weight loss as a symptom. Even though their blood sugar levels are higher than normal, their cells can’t use the extra glucose for fuel without insulin. When the body can’t use glucose, it instead burns fat and muscle for energy. The combination of dehydration and insufficient fuel can cause rapid weight loss.

If you notice you or your child has lost weight unexpectedly, it’s time to call the doctor. Be sure to note any other symptoms, such as frequent urination or extreme thirst. Weight loss is typically reversed once people start treating their type 1 diabetes with insulin therapy. Adequate hydration can also help with weight gain.

3. Extreme Hunger

Unexplained weight loss can also be accompanied by polyphagia (extreme hunger). With type 1 diabetes, the body can’t use glucose for energy, so it mistakenly sends out hunger signals to try and get more sugar. Someone may eat more than normal because their body is telling them they’re not getting enough nutrients. However, eating more won’t take away their hunger.

People with type 1 diabetes may also experience extreme hunger during episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). This is the body’s way of signaling it needs more sugar. Children and adults with type 1 diabetes may experience hypoglycemia if they take too much insulin, which causes their blood sugar levels to become too low.

Doctors call the combination of polyphagia, polyuria, and polydipsia the “three Ps of diabetes.” If you or your child experiences any combination of these symptoms, be sure to call the doctor as soon as possible.

4. Fruity-Smelling Breath

If you or your child develops fruity-smelling breath alongside other type 1 diabetes symptoms, you should seek emergency medical care immediately. These symptoms point to DKA, which (as noted) can be a life-threatening complication of diabetes if left untreated.

Since people with type 1 diabetes can’t use sugar for fuel, their bodies start breaking down fats instead. This produces a byproduct known as ketones, which can build up to dangerous levels in the bloodstream and urine. The body tries to clear the excess ketones out through their breath and urine, giving them a fruity smell.

Other signs of DKA to look out for include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Flushed face
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Frequent urination and extreme thirst
  • Dry mouth and skin
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Confusion

DKA may be the first sign of type 1 diabetes for some people. It requires immediate hospitalization and intensive treatment.

5. Dry Mouth and Itchy Skin

Children and adults with type 1 diabetes may also have dry mouth and itchy skin. These symptoms go hand in hand with dehydration and frequent urination, also caused by the body not having enough water. If your child complains that their skin is itchy or that their mouth and lips are dry, it may be a sign that they’re dehydrated. If you notice other signs of type 1 diabetes in addition to these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, contact a doctor.

6. Slow-Healing Sores and Cuts

High blood sugar levels from type 1 diabetes affect the body’s nerves and blood vessels. This can make it harder for the body to heal itself. People with type 1 diabetes have low-grade inflammation that also affects the healing process. If you or your child has a scrape, sore, or cut that just can’t seem to heal on its own, it may be a sign of type 1 diabetes.

7. Blurry Vision

The eyes are also extremely sensitive to blood sugar levels. People with type 1 diabetes may experience blurry vision if their blood glucose levels are too high. This is because excess blood sugar can cause tissue swelling and change fluid levels in the eyes. Blurred vision from type 1 diabetes is temporary and goes away once you or your child starts insulin therapy.

It’s important to note that uncontrolled diabetes can lead to diabetic eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy or macular edema. To prevent complications from type 1 diabetes, it’s important to properly manage blood sugar levels and stick with treatment plans.

8. Recurring Infections

Uncontrolled high blood sugar levels affect immune system function, which increases the risk of infections. People with type 1 diabetes may develop yeast infections — particularly, women can develop yeast infections affecting the vagina or bladder, according to Mayo Clinic. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are also more common in those with diabetes.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myT1Dteam, the social network for people living with type 1 diabetes and their loved ones, members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with those who understand life with type 1 diabetes.

What symptoms did you or your loved one have before being diagnosed? Share your experiences in a comment below or post to your Activities page.

Posted on February 7, 2024
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Angelica Balingit, M.D. is a specialist in internal medicine, board certified since 1996. Learn more about her here.
Emily Wagner, M.S. holds a Master of Science in biomedical sciences with a focus in pharmacology. She is passionate about immunology, cancer biology, and molecular biology. Learn more about her here.

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