What is Type 1 Diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes the pancreas fails to produce insulin, a hormone which transports sugar (glucose) from foods into the body’s cells, where it can be used to produce energy.

If insulin is not produced by the pancreas, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of getting into the body's cells, causing high blood glucose levels which can lead to serious complications. 

People of all ages are affected by type 1 diabetes and treatment is usually required for life. Thankfully, type 1 diabetes is now a perfectly manageable condition and range of treatment methods are available to help people live healthy and comfortable lives. 

  • 470,000

    Have type 1 diabetes in the UK

  • 10%

    Of all diabetes patients in the UK have type 1.

  • £13.9 million

    Has been awarded to research by DRWF since 1998.

Causes of Type 1 Diabetes

The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but due to decades of scientific research, we are closer to discovering what causes type 1 and what risk factors may trigger the condition. 

We do know that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune issue, where the body produces antibodies to the pancreas, damaging it and preventing it producing insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot use glucose to produce energy, resulting in high glucose levels in the bloodstream. 

At DRWF, we have made a significant commitment to Islet Cell research and transplant. To read more about our programmes, visit our research page

A researcher examining samples in a lab.


When the pancreas stops producing insulin, your body tries to find new ways to get rid of glucose. This results in a person developing symptoms which can be used be used to diagnose the condition. Understanding these symptoms is crucial to preventing early complications caused by high sugar levels. 

  • Severe tiredness. Carbohydrates cannot be converted into energy, resulting in people feeling more tired than usual.
  • Frequent urination. The body uses the kidneys to flush out glucose.
  • Thirst. The body attempts to replace lost fluid. 
  • Weight loss. This is usually rapid and very noticeable.   
  • Visual changes. Due to temporary changes in lens shape.

Treatment for Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a serious condition, but with the right treatment people with type 1 diabetes live healthy and comfortable lives. 

Type 1 diabetes is always treated with insulin, which requires daily injections or administration via an insulin pump. Modern insulin is designed to be incorporated into your life as seamlessly as possible. Most people start insulin therapy by injecting themselves twice a day, and with time you may consider switching to other insulin solutions which suit your lifestyle more.

If you have type 1 diabetes, your  healthcare team will help you find the right insulin for you, as well as offering advice and support. 

A man checking his blood sugar levels.

Managing Type 1 Diabetes 

Keeping your blood glucose levels under control is crucial to managing type 1 diabetes. Luckily, there are a wide range of methods and tools available to help you keep these levels within an optimal range, reducing the risk of complications. 

Blood glucose meters are widely available across the UK and are used to read  blood glucose levels. To do this, a lancet is used to prick your finger, then a small droplet of blood is applied into the meter. In recent years, other types of monitoring equipment has emerged which embraces the latest technology to help track glucose levels. Flash glucose sensors are small devices which users wear on their arms or legs. They continuously track glucose levels throughout the day and can even alert you when levels are too high or low.  

At DRWF, we also have a range of information leaflets for people wanting to learn more about managing diabetes, such as how exercise affects glucose levels and the importance of a healthy diet. 

How is it different from Type 2 Diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas fails to produce insulin and treatment is required for life. It can be diagnosed at any age, but it is most common in children and young adults. 

In type 2 diabetes the pancreas either fails to produce enough insulin, or produces insulin which is ineffective and cannot be used by the body. Type 2 is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 40 and is strongly linked to poor lifestyle choices and obesity, with the backbone of management focusing on healthy eating and exercise. It is also the most common form of diabetes, accounting for around 90% of everyone living with diabetes. 

A pile of prescription piles.

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Each year we run events for people living with diabetes, ranging from educational workshops and wellness events, to fundraising marathons and group skydives. To find out more about our events and how we support people living with diabetes, please visit our Events Page.


Since 1998 we have provided over £12 million of funding for medical research programmes, with the aim of finding a cure for all types of diabetes. In 2004, we made a significant commitment to Islet Cell Research and Transplant, a programme which focuses on the role of islet cells in diabetes. Read more about our commitment to research by visiting our Research Page.


We rely on our amazing donors who raise the funds that help support people living with diabetes across the UK, as well as funding our vital research programmes. There are lots of ways to raise money to support people living with all forms of diabetes, there’s something for everyone! To discover more about fundraising with us, please visit our Fundraising Page