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New Treatments for Type 1 Diabetes

Learn the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for type 1 diabetes

A relaxed man and woman sharing a warm embrace stand in a coastal beach environment

by Daniel Einhorn, MD

What do Halle Berry, Mary Tyler Moore, Thomas Edison and B.B. King have in common besides being famous? They all have or had diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas that helps transport glucose (blood sugar) into the body’s cells. Without enough insulin, the body cannot use sugar for energy.

The sugar builds up in the bloodstream instead, subsequently disturbing normal body functions. When blood sugar remains high for prolonged periods, it can cause damage to the heart, eyes, kidneys and limbs.

Left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, vision loss, kidney disease and infections of the feet and legs.

Early detection of diabetes is vital to reducing the risk of complications later on. Some of the common symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, excessive hunger or thirst, unexplained weight loss, increased fatigue, blurry vision and wounds that are slow to heal.

If you have any of these symptoms, contact your physician right away.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes affects 5 to 10 percent of those with diabetes, mostly children and young adults. It is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. As a result, the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or stops making it altogether.

Fortunately, Type 1 diabetes can be successfully managed through lifestyle and insulin replacement. While people with Type 1 diabetes must use insulin every day to keep their bodies functioning properly, they can lead full and active lives.

And while there is no cure, diabetes researchers have made significant advancements in understanding and treating the disease. We have done clinical trials with the following treatments and devices at Scripps, and are pleased to be among the first to introduce them to our diabetes patients.

Better blood sugar control: Simlyn

One of the most exciting developments in Type 1 diabetes treatment is the use of the hormone analogue Symlin (pramlintide) to help control blood sugar. Symlin does not directly lower blood sugar like insulin does, but works indirectly through processes such as how quickly the stomach empties.

It helps to normalize stomach emptying and alert the brain that we’ve eaten, so we feel less hungry. As a result, people who take Symlin have better blood sugar control, especially after meals. They also tend to lose weight, which further helps control blood sugar. Symlin has recently been approved by the FDA as a complementary treatment to insuline.

Symlin also helps control fluctuations, or highs and lows, in blood sugar levels. People with diabetes typically use a laboratory blood test known as the A1C to measure whether they are effectively controlling their blood sugar. Although it is a valuable test of the average blood sugar over the previous three months, the A1C does not show blood sugar fluctuations.

While we haven’t completely proven it yet, we are fairly certain that eliminating those fluctuations in blood sugar can play a significant role in helping to prevent complications of diabetes and improving the sense of well-being.

Continuous glucose monitoring

In addition, we have seen a number of major improvements in continuous glucose monitoring, which enables people with diabetes to better manage their blood sugar levels. The conventional way to measure blood sugar levels has been with a finger-prick blood test performed several times throughout the day.

Medtronic MiniMed manufactures a device that can be worn for days at a stretch to measure blood sugar continuously and automatically. Currently, the device is borrowed from the doctor’s office for three days, but a consumer device will soon be launched.

This Scripps Health and Wellness information was provided by Daniel Einhorn, MD, one of the country’s leading diabetes researchers.