Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes affecting children and adolescents in Australia. The condition occurs when the body stops producing insulin. Insulin is produced in the pancreas and allows sugar to pass into the cells of the body to produce energy.

Type 1 diabetes is a serious disease that usually develops during childhood or young adulthood. The condition cannot be prevented and can cause a range of short- and long-term health complications. Although most cases occur unexpectedly, your child is more likely to develop type 1 diabetes if other members of the family also have the condition.

Other forms of diabetes include type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes (occurs during pregnancy) and rare types developed as a result of various genetic disorders.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes may be present for a long time before diagnosis or may occur suddenly and include:

  • unexpected weight loss
  • tiredness
  • excessive thirst
  • passing more urine than normal and wetting the bed.

If your child also has tummy pain, vomiting, sleepiness and deep breathing this may indicate diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) which is a serious complication of untreated diabetes.

If you believe your child may have DKA, take them immediately to your nearest hospital for emergency assessment.

How is it diagnosed?

If your doctor believes your child has type 1 diabetes, they will be immediately referred to the nearest emergency department for assessment. A delay in diagnosis can lead to DKA which can develop rapidly and cause death if not treated. DKA requires immediate admission to paediatric intensive care for treatment.

What is the treatment?

Type 1 diabetes needs careful daily management to ensure glucose levels remain stable and within a healthy range. This involves a careful balance between food intake, exercise and medication.

Type 1 diabetes is treated by replacing the body’s missing insulin and people with this condition must:

  • use insulin every day (usually four to five injections per day or an insulin pump)
  • regularly test their blood glucose (up to six times per day) or use a glucose sensor
  • eat a healthy diet matched with the insulin dose
  • take exercise as any other child of the same age.

Education to enable self-management is the cornerstone of diabetes care and continues at all ages and duration of the illness.

When to seek help

See your GP if your child has any symptoms.

In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

If you're not sure whether to go to an emergency department, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) and speak to a registered nurse.

Developed by Queensland Children’s Hospital. We acknowledge the input of consumers and carers.

Resource ID: FS180. Reviewed: November 2016.

Disclaimer: This information has been produced by healthcare professionals as a guideline only and is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your child’s doctor or healthcare professionals. Information is updated regularly, so please check you are referring to the most recent version. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.

Last updated: October 2023