Our Approach to Care for Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic, autoimmune condition in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin — the hormone that helps your cells use sugar (glucose) as energy. Without insulin, sugar stays in the blood and can cause serious damage to organs. About 5-10% of Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes have Type 1. Typically, Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood, but it can appear at any age.

Disease Management

Our approach to patient care begins with the understanding that diabetes has a different impact on every patient. We integrate our ongoing research into our clinic, giving our patients access to the most advanced diagnostic and treatment services. Our expertise in genetics and diabetes allows us to examine each patient’s family history and identify candidates for genetic testing, as needed, to ensure patients receive the most appropriate and effective treatment plans for their diabetes.

We build treatment plans tailored to address each patient’s needs. Our multidisciplinary team is equipped to support patients in managing every aspect of diabetes, from the medical and physical issues to the social and emotional challenges. Because diabetes is a lifelong disease, we approach care with a “life span model” of care. Our diabetes specialists are able to provide care to patients at every life stage. 

Second Opinions

We welcome the opportunity to provide a second opinion on your diagnosis or treatment plan. Our specialists are dedicated to helping you understand your options so you can select the best care plan for your needs. Our team will use previous test results and may conduct additional diagnostic tests such as advanced laboratory analysis, genetic testing or other methods of evaluation to provide a full evaluation and build an individualized diabetes management plan. 

Type 1 Diabetes

The most common symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss
  • Blurry eyesight
  • Extreme fatigue and/or hunger
  • High levels of ketones in the blood

The A1C test measures the average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. When glucose (sugar) builds up in the blood, it binds to the hemoglobin in red blood cells. This test measures what percentage of hemoglobin is coated with sugar. An A1C level of 6.5% or higher on two separate tests typically indicates diabetes.

People with diabetes who also have other chronic illnesses, such as hypertension, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, thyroid problems or polycystic ovary syndrome, benefit from customized treatment plans that take into account how best to manage diabetes when other health problems are present. 

Pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant can take advantage of our unique diabetes and pregnancy program in partnership with the University of Chicago Medicine High-Risk Obstetrics Program. 

Teens with diabetes receive special care through our transitions program that helps them manage their diabetes as they grow into adulthood. Patients who require surgery can receive expert care through University of Chicago programs in transplantation (heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas), cardiac surgery, orthopaedic surgery, vascular surgery and bariatric (weight loss) surgery.

Blood Sugar Monitoring & Insulin Replacement Therapy

Regular blood sugar monitoring is essential for people with Type 1 diabetes. Even if a patient does not feel symptoms, blood sugar may be at unhealthy levels, putting the patient at risk for complications. Consistent monitoring is the only way to ensure that blood sugar level remains within the target range. 

Insulin replacement therapy uses medication to simulate the function of a healthy pancreas. Insulin can be delivered to cells through regular injections or through a continuous insulin pump.

Our patients have access to the newest glucose sensor technology and monitoring devices. Patients receive one-on-one education on how to use these important devices. Our insulin pump program offers options to select specific technology that best fits each patient's needs.

Diet & Exercise

Exercise lowers the blood sugar level by moving sugar into cells to be processed for energy. Exercise also increases sensitivity to insulin, which means the body needs less insulin to transport sugar to cells.

Nutrition is one of the most important parts of managing the diabetes puzzle. It’s important for patients to learn how different foods affect blood glucose levels. 

Physicals and blood work through the care of a diabetes specialist are important for patients diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when the body, unable to metabolize glucose, metabolizes fat instead. This creates a buildup of ketones in the blood and at high levels, ketones are poisonous. Diabetic ketoacidosis can be triggered in Type 1 diabetes patients by infection, injury, a serious illness, surgery or insulin deficiency.

Patients typically also see their doctors for regular blood tests that show average blood glucose levels for the most recent two to three months.


Answers to Common Questions About Type 1 Diabetes

Yes. People with Type 1 diabetes are not making enough insulin from their own bodies. Most people inject insulin at least four times a day. However, the insulin pump, or continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion (CSII), is slowly replacing frequent injections as a preferred delivery system. With the pump, a new catheter is inserted every few days under the skin, and insulin is continuously infused into the body. The pump is not the final word in insulin delivery systems, and there are clinical trials underway testing both a patch and a nasal spray as possible insulin delivery systems.

In general, exercise can be beneficial in the management of type 1 diabetes, in addition to taking insulin and eating a healthy diet. To exercise safely and reduce the risks, always consult with your doctor about exercise guidelines.

Even if you eliminate concentrated sources of carbohydrates (foods that turn into sugar in your bloodstream) like candy and cookies, you always need to take insulin when you have Type 1 diabetes. Check with your doctor about any insulin dose adjustments that may be required if you change your diet.

Feeling fine is no guarantee that your blood sugar levels are in the target range. Remember, symptoms do not appear right away. Without regular blood sugar monitoring, serious damage can happen to your eyes, kidneys, feet – even your brain – without your knowing. If your sugar levels are out of line, consult your doctor.

Yes, but the risk is low. Although Type 1 diabetes is a genetic disease, only about 4% to 5% of children of people with Type 1 diabetes will develop diabetes. The risk varies with age, gender and other factors relating to the parent with diabetes. You can learn more about these odds by having your children undergo certain genetic tests.

Help us find the answers

To donate by mail: 
The University of Chicago Kovler Diabetes Center 
Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery 
Attention: Peggy Hasenauer 
900 East 57th Street 
8th Floor, Room 8144 
Chicago, IL 60637 

*Unfortunately, we are unable to accept cash gifts. Personal and Corporate Checks are accepted. 

Email peggy.hasenauer@uchospitals.edu for additional questions. 

Make a gift to support Kovler Diabetes Center

Diabetes Care at UChicago Medicine

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To speak to someone directly, please call 1-888-824-0200. If you have symptoms of an urgent nature, please call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.


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Diabetes Care