Type Diabetes

When someone's pancreas cannot make insulin, the person has type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes occurs mainly in children, and so it used to be called juvenile diabetes. However, as more cases have been found in adults, the term "juvenile" has been dropped from the name and replaced with "type 1." About 10 percent of Americans with diabetes have this type. That is an estimated 850,000 to 1.7 million people, with about 125,000 of those being age nineteen and under.

Type 1 diabetes is usually an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system makes a mistake and begins attacking healthy body parts. Normally, the immune system produces antibodies that destroy bad viruses and bacteria that get into the body, like an army rushing out to stop an invading enemy. For instance, when someone gets a cut on the hand, the immune system immediately starts making antibodies that rush to the cut to prevent infection.

However, with an autoimmune illness, the immune system goes haywire. No one knows why, but it mistakenly sees healthy cells as an enemy and attacks them. When it destroys the beta cells in the pancreas, the body can no longer produce any insulin at all, creating type 1 diabetes.

Alyssa Brandenstein of Evansville, Indiana, was diagnosed with type 1 right around her thirteenth birthday. She had been an energetic, straight-A student all through school, but then mysteriously, "I was always tired, school was harder to understand, and I just wanted to go to sleep all the time. I didn't feel happy,"12 she said.

Then she suddenly lost a lot of weight over a couple of weeks, and "there was a big change in her,"13 says her mother, Mindy. Alyssa's doctor ordered a blood test, which discovered the diabetes, and she developed a condition called ketoacidosis, which can be life-threatening if not treated. Her family rushed her to the hospital, where she was treated for three days in January 2007. While she was there, she and her family received intense training on how to deal with this new situation.

When Alyssa first got sick, she was scared because she did not know what was wrong with her. But when she got her diagnosis of type 1, "I was happy, too, because I knew I would get better," she says. "And I had lots of people to help me."14

Today, with proper care, Alyssa is leading much the same life she did before her diagnosis. She and her friend even made a video about her illness, titled "Alyssa's Dream," and put it on YouTube.

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