Can You Prevent Type 1 Diabetes?

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Diabetes is a medical condition where the blood sugar in the body gets too high. Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes is not preventable and there is currently no way to cure the disease. However, there are treatments that allow people to live healthy lives when they have diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) occurs when the pancreas (an internal organ behind the stomach and above the intestines) does not produce enough insulin to manage blood sugar levels. It can also result when the pancreas does not make any insulin at all. High levels of sugar in the blood can cause damage to important parts of the body like eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels over time. 

About 5-10% of all cases of diabetes in the United States (U.S.) are type 1. Over 1.4 million people in the United States already have type 1 diabetes, and another 64,000 people are expected to be diagnosed each year.

Although the exact mechanism that causes diabetes is not well understood, which is one of the reasons why we don't know how to prevent it yet. It is currently believed that diabetes is the result of an abnormal attack by the immune system against the body (often called autoimmune disease).

Who Is Most at Risk?

The risk factors for type 1 diabetes are less well understood than those for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. The immune system attacks your body for an unknown reason. The damage to the beta islet cells (the cells that make insulin) of the pancreas slows down or stops insulin production and diabetes occurs.

There are two known risk factors for type 1 diabetes:

  • Age (Type 1 is most common in young people—it was previously called “juvenile” diabetes)
  • Family history (A close relative like a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes increases your risk)

Type 1 diabetes typically occurs equally between young boys and girls. However, according to a 2017 study, girls tend to develop the disease earlier in life, so the peak age of diagnosis is younger in girls than boys. The same source reports that for adults over 20 years old, men are diagnosed twice as often as women.  

There is also ongoing research into the environmental factors that may increase the risk for type 1 diabetes. Infections in the mother during pregnancy and how soon a baby first starts eating solid food are both being studied. At this time, there are no direct known causes of type 1 diabetes, but the research continues.


Because type 1 diabetes is the result of the body’s immune system attacking healthy cells, the disease itself is not directly inherited. However, the risk of being diagnosed with T1DM increases in families.

A family history of T1DM is a risk factor for developing the disease. This means that if a close family member (like a parent or sibling) is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes is most common among white people in the U.S. People of Black, Hispanic, and Latin heritage have lower rates. Research continues to better understand these differences, but they cannot currently be explained.

There is no test to see if you or a loved one will develop type 1 diabetes. However, you or your family may be tested by healthcare providers to see if you have autoantibodies—antibodies in your body that attack your normal, healthy cells. Having autoantibodies tends to increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Regular visits with your healthcare provider can help to screen for and test for abnormal blood sugars so that treatment can be provided if the condition is found.

How to Reduce Risk 

Type 1 diabetes risk cannot be actively reduced with current medical treatments. Despite a common belief that T1DM occurs only in children, it can happen to anyone of any age. Early identification of the condition is vital to start treatment quickly and reduce long-term complications.

Type 1 diabetes can occur suddenly after a viral illness. However, there is no specific viral illness that triggers the development of type 1 diabetes. Research continues to help healthcare providers understand the potential diseases that may encourage the body to attack itself.

Some research has focused on diet changes, early use of insulin medications, omega-3 fatty acids, and medications to suppress the immune system (to try to minimize damage to the pancreas) have been attempted. None has been effective in routinely preventing type 1 diabetes.


It is not common to test for type 1 diabetes unless a person has symptoms. For this reason, it is important for caregivers to be aware of some of the more common symptoms. Common symptoms include:

  • Using the bathroom often (frequent urination)
  • Feeling thirsty often (even if drinking enough fluids)
  • Feeling hungry often (even if eating enough food)
  • Feeling extremely tired (fatigue)
  • Blurry vision
  • Injuries like cuts and bruises take a long time to heal
  • Weight loss (even if eating enough)

Report any of these symptoms to your healthcare provider right away.

If your healthcare provider determines that you or your loved one should be tested for diabetes, the typical tests may include:

  • Blood test: This is to check your blood sugar levels. Too high levels are a primary indicator of diabetes.
  • Urine test: This is to see if you have ketones—a chemical made in your liver—in your urine. High ketone levels due to diabetes is called diabetic ketoacidosis.

Many times, these tests can be done during a normal office or lab visit. If you need a fasting blood test, you will be asked to come to the lab in the morning before eating anything. Both tests are generally safe with low risks. Blood tests may result in some minor bleeding or bruising and can briefly be painful.

Lifestyle Habits 

Lifestyle habits do not cause and cannot prevent type 1 diabetes. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, your healthcare provider will likely recommend specific diet modifications, medications, and other treatments to help you stay as healthy as possible while managing your condition. 

Taking Medications

There are no medications currently available to prevent type 1 diabetes. However, insulin is used to control blood sugar levels for people with T1DM. Your healthcare provider will work with you to help you understand the type of insulin prescribed and how to safely administer it. 

Surgery and Procedures

Scientists and healthcare providers are studying the use of transplanted organs to help treat type 1 diabetes. Some studies have attempted to transplant a whole pancreas and others have transplanted just the islet cells. These procedures are expensive, have significant risks, and do not cure diabetes for everyone. They are typically used only for people with severe medical problems or blood sugars that are very difficult to control. While not a cure for T1DM at this time, research continues to understand this treatment option.

Discuss With Your Healthcare Provider

If type 1 diabetes runs in your family, talk with your healthcare provider about symptoms to watch for and when or how to be tested for diabetes. If you have symptoms of T1DM, you should report them to your provider right away. It is possible to develop symptoms even if no one else in your family has the disease. In some people, diabetes is diagnosed only when life-threatening symptoms or complications develop, so do not delay medical care.

The medical community continues to research type 1 diabetes. New information is discovered all the time. Be sure to discuss any major lifestyle, medication, or medical changes with your provider before implementing them.

A Quick Review 

Type 1 diabetes is believed to be an autoimmune disease that prevents the pancreas from making the insulin necessary to keep blood sugars at a healthy level. There is currently no specific known cause and no cure. Unfortunately, this means there is no way to prevent you from developing type 1 diabetes. However, early identification of common symptoms (especially excessive hunger, thirst, and urination) can help diagnose this quickly so that you can start treatment.

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  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Type 1 diabetes.

  2. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Type 1 diabetes facts.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is type 1 diabetes?

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes risk factors.

  5. Katsarou A, Gudbjörnsdottir S, Rawshani A, et al. Type 1 diabetes mellitus. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2017;3(1):17016. doi:10.1038/nrdp.2017.16

  6. American Diabetes Association. Type 1 overview: Diabetes symptoms.

  7. MedlinePlus. Insulin in blood.

  8. Kochar IS, Jain R. Pancreas transplant in type 1 diabetes mellitus: The emerging role of islet cell transplant. Ann Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2021;26(2):86-91. doi:10.6065/apem.2142012.006

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