Type 1 diabetes mellitus is characterized by loss of the insulin-producing beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas, leading to insulin deficiency. This type can be further classified as immune-mediated or idiopathic. The majority of type 1 diabetes is of the immune-mediated nature, in which beta cell loss is a T cell -mediated autoimmune attack. There is no known preventive measure against type 1 diabetes, which causes approximately 10% of diabetes mellitus cases in North America and Europe. Most affected people are otherwise healthy and of a healthy weight when onset occurs. Sensitivity and responsiveness to insulin are usually normal, especially in the early stages. Type 1 diabetes can affect children or adults, but was traditionally termed “juvenile diabetes” because a majority of these diabetes cases were in children.
“Brittle” diabetes, also known as unstable diabetes or labile diabetes, is a term that was traditionally used to describe the dramatic and recurrent swings in glucose levels, often occurring for no apparent reason in insulin -dependent diabetes. This term, however, has no biologic basis and should not be used. There are many reasons for type 1 diabetes to be accompanied by irregular and unpredictable hyperglycemia frequently with ketosis, and sometimes serious hypoglycemia, including an impaired counterregulatory response to hypoglycemia, occult infection, gastroparesis (which leads to erratic absorption of dietary carbohydrates), and endocrinopathies (e.g., Addison’s disease). These phenomena are believed to occur no more frequently than in 1% to 2% of persons with type 1 diabetes.