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Understanding Type 1 Diabetes

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Each year more than 15,000 children and young adults are diagnosed with diabetes in the United States. That's more than 40 adolescents each day, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.

VIDEO: Click here to see American Idol contestant Elliott Yamin talk about living with Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, the hormone necessary to convert sugar, starches and other foods into energy the body can use. This results in high blood sugar.

There are several risk factors that can determine whether someone is high risk for type 1 diabetes or not, Dr. Larry Deeb, past president of medicine and science research at the American Diabetes Association, told FOXNews.com.

Genetics are one factor. The condition runs in families, and relatives of a person with type 1 diabetes have a 10 percent higher chance of acquiring the disease by the age of 60, according to ADA research.

In young children and adults, onset symptoms are usually the same:

— Increased thirst

— Urinating often

— Feeling very hungry or tired

— Losing weight without trying

— Having sores that heal slowly

— Dry, itchy skin

— Tingling feet or losing the feeling in your feet

— Blurry eyesight

“With type 1, the first major sign is increased thirst and urination,” Deeb said. “Most adults and children will often wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom more than once.”

Environmental factors, which are unknown at this time, may also play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes. If one identical twin has type 1, there’s a 50 percent chance of their twin also having it even though they share identical genes, according to ADA statistics. This has led researchers to believe there are other environmental factors at work.

Race and ethnicity are also risk factors since there are more cases of type 1 in Caucasians than there are in other racial and ethnic groups.

“There are people who have a high risk genetically,” Deeb said. "The highest risk is one in 15, but not everyone is at risk, so it’s probably something in the environment. Look at everything, all the toxins and viruses and other autoimmunities that may increase risk in a person who may not be at risk. Usually, type 1 tends to be more of risk of Northern European regions like Scandinavia, but it still occurs in Hispanics and African-Americans.”

If you are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it is important to take your prescribed medicine and see your doctor as scheduled. The following health conditions can be complications of diabetes:

— Heart disease

— Kidney disease

— Eye complications, such as glaucoma, cataracts or blindness

— Gum disease

— Neuropathy, which means damage to the nerves that run throughout the body

— Foot problems, including calluses and/or poor circulation

— Skin disorders, like fungal or bacterial infections

— Gastroparesis, which means the stomach takes too long to empty out its contents

Children with Type 1

For parents who have a child that has been recently diagnosed, Deeb recommends finding the right specialist, someone who has extensive experience and knowledge working with children with diabetes.

“You need to be sure that the person doing it is taking care of many people with diabetes,” Deeb said. “There are people throughout the U.S. who are competent, and it may be someone in the community. Even more important than a doctor is a center that knows about children with diabetes."

In addition to a good specialist who can treat a child, psychological support should also be on hand for families, Deeb added.

“I feel strongly about the use of a team of pros,” he said. “We have educators, dieticians and perhaps they don’t do enough. Psychological support for families with social workers and other professionals — families need access to these people. Everyone should be evaluated. There’s such a high stress level in a family that has someone diagnosed."

Deeb said there may also be a fear of taking insulin, which is the main treatment for Type 1 diabetes, but more education can help put people at ease.

“The main requirement is for education of people with diabetes,” Deeb said. “It’s of the utmost importance for people with Type 1 to know about their blood sugar level, how to manage their blood sugar and understand how those work together. It’s a sophisticated tight rope to walk. I’m in awe of families who deal with this.”