What we know

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune condition where the pancreas stops producing insulin due to the immune system attacking the beta cells, which produce insulin. Research is ongoing to identify what causes T1D—and how to stop it. Here’s what we know about onset.   

Genes and family history

Certain genes increase the likelihood of an individual developing T1D, as can a family history of the condition. If you have an immediate family member with T1D, your chances of developing the condition are 1 in 20, which is 15 times higher than the general population.

Environmental triggers

Environmental factors, including viruses, are another factor behind T1D onset. Some researchers believe that certain viruses may specifically target beta cells, and as the body’s immune response tries to combat these viruses, it may mistakenly attack and damage the beta cells.

Immune response

Once T1D is triggered, the body starts attacking the beta cells, which produce insulin. This attack can be detected through biochemical signs called autoantibodies, which appear well before any symptoms of T1D are observed. As the immune system continues to attack and destroy more beta cells, insulin production decreases, leading to abnormal blood-sugar levels. Eventually, the number of destroyed beta cells becomes so high, and insulin production drops so low that symptoms of T1D start to appear.

T1D cannot be prevented through diet or exercise

It is important to understand that T1D is not caused by diet. However, certain dietary factors might be involved in the development of type 2 diabetes.

Similarly, the risk of a T1D diagnosis is not influenced by factors such as lifestyle, activity level, socioeconomic status, or habits.

Learn more T1D basics

Recognize the early warning signs of T1D

Therapies for treating type 1 diabetes

Get the facts about living with T1D