JDRFInformation & supportAbout type 1 diabetes

About type 1 diabetes

Getting information about type 1 diabetes is crucial if you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed

About type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes isn’t caused by poor diet or an unhealthy lifestyle. In fact, it isn’t caused by anything that you did or didn’t do, and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. For reasons we don’t yet fully understand, your immune system – which is meant to protect you from viruses and bacteria – attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas, called beta cells.

Insulin is crucial to life. When you eat, insulin moves the energy from your food, called glucose, from your blood into the cells of your body. When the beta cells in your pancreas fail to produce insulin, glucose levels in your blood start to rise and your body can’t function properly. Over time this high level of glucose in the blood may damage nerves and blood vessels and the organs they supply.

This condition affects 400,000 people in the UK, with over 29,000 of them children. Incidence is increasing by about four per cent each year and particularly in children under five, with a five per cent increase each year in this age group over the last 20 years.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

More than 50 genes have been identified that can increase a person’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes, but genes are only part of the cause. Scientists are also currently investigating what environmental factors play a role.

What is known is that:

  • Destruction of insulin-producing beta cells is due to damage inflicted by your immune system
  • Something triggered your immune system to attack your beta cells
  • Certain genes put people at a greater risk of developing type 1 diabetes, but are not the only factors involved
  • While there are no proven environmental triggers, researchers are looking for possible culprits, such as viral infections and particular molecules within our environment and foods.

Is type 1 diabetes hereditary?

Around 90 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes have no family history of the condition.

Although other family members may carry the same ‘at risk’ genes, the overall risk of type 1 diabetes for multiple family members is generally low.

Causes of type 1 diabetes

If you have just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes you are probably wondering 'Why me?'. It is important to know it is not your fault

Signs and symptoms

When your blood glucose levels become too high your body will do whatever it can to try and remove the glucose from the blood

The difference between type 1 and type 2

There are three major types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. All types of diabetes cause blood glucose levels to be higher than normal

Type 1 diabetes facts & figures

The incidence of type 1 diabetes is growing at an alarming rate. View the latest figures and links to national public information resources

The honeymoon phase

After diagnosis most people go through a ‘honeymoon phase’ in which their existing beta cells still function, producing some insulin


Talking or thinking about long-term complications can be difficult and upsetting. You might also find it hard to make lifestyle changes that will decrease the risk

Type 1 educational videos

Watch our series of introductory videos to the main type 1 topics including hypos, insulin, the artificial pancreas and encapsulation.

Watch now

Other autoimmune conditions

Learn more about the risk of developing other autoimmune conditions in our A-Z guide

Learn more

Support for people who are newly-diagnosed

Support for newly-diagnosed children

Find out about our Discovery Days, online support groups, free information packs, useful links and read other families' stories about living with type 1

Support for newly-diagnosed adults

Sign up to a Discovery Evening, find type 1 social communities, order an Adult Type 1 Toolkit and get useful links to helplines, services and practical support

Information packs for people who are newly-diagnosed

Order your adult type 1 tookit

If you have type 1 diabetes, order our free toolkit for more information about your diagnosis and how we can help

Order your KIDSAC

If your child has type 1 diabetes, order your free KIDSAC to help you through diagnosis and learn more about how we can help

Type 1 Diabetes Discovery Days

Come along to one of our Type 1 Discovery Days to learn more about the latest type 1 diabetes research and meet other families and adults with the condition.

Learn more about our Discovery events