Diabetes is one of the most prevalent diseases in the United States. In fact, a recent federal report estimates that 100 million U.S. adults are now living with either diabetes and prediabetes. The vast majority of those cases, about 95 percent, are type 2—the most well-known form of the disease—but millions of Americans still live with type 1 diabetes.
“It’s a very distinct difference with type 1,” said Gabe Blomquist, a Physician Assistant at Billings Clinic who specializes in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 differs from type 2 diabetes, and it happens to all ages
Type 1 diabetes used to be referred to as juvenile diabetes because it surfaced in children and young adults, but it can happen at any age. While exact causes remain unknown, it is an autoimmune disease that stops your pancreas from producing enough insulin, a hormone that regulates sugar movement into your cells, while in type 2 diabetes, you aren’t responding as well to insulin as you should.
This form of diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction in which the body’s white blood cells attack the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. This can happen for months or years before symptoms appear. However, symptoms can develop in just a few weeks or months and they can be severe.
Type 1 development isn’t related to lifestyle factors—such as diet, exercise, and weight, as it is with type 2 that can be controlled.
“It’s almost always not lifestyle-related,” Blomquist said. “Patients have no choice when getting it.”
Technology is getting better
The technology used to monitor and treat type 1 diabetes—continuous glucose monitors, pumps and a hybrid closed-loop artificial pancreas that can mimic organ’s vital functions—has improved greatly in recent years, and that means people diagnosed with the disease are better able to manage their daily lives.
“We’ve seen huge changes in the last four or five years,” Blomquist said. “We have great treatments and we continue to grow the technology side of treatment to control type 1 diabetes more effectively.” They might use a continuous glucose monitor to keep a constant eye on blood sugar levels or use the hybrid closed-loop artificial pancreas to deliver doses of insulin when needed. And the newer technology is easy to use.
“A lot of times, they don’t have to use specific settings with these devices,” Blomquist said. “It changes insulin delivery based on what those blood sugar levels are and minimizes concerns over things like hypoglycemia.”
The right care and treatment makes a difference
At Billings Clinic Diabetes and Endocrinology, patients have access to comprehensive, team-based care. That team starts with the patient and includes specialized physicians, primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, a physician assistant, trained and certified diabetes educators, nurses, a diabetes life coach and support staff.
Blomquist pointed out that each member plays a vital role in providing the right care, such as the educators helping a patient learn how to manage and treat their diabetes at home while a physician works on a treatment plan and life coach assists with any behavioral changes or needs that arise.
“Everybody is using their specialty to help provide the best treatment,” Blomquist said. “And we are teaching them how to do these things in their own lives.”
Even though there’s no cure, with the proper and consistent treatment, many type 1 diabetes patients can live healthy lives. “They can have a normal life,” Blomquist said. “I have patients who play sports, who are active in the outdoors—they do their jobs and everything else like anyone.”
For more information on type 1 diabetes or diabetes care at Billings Clinic, call (406) 238-2500 or visit www.billingsclinic.com/diabetes.
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