Someone in my family died in 1924 of type 1 diabetes at the age of 26. What would life have been like for her? Would she have been in the hospital frequently? What was the average life-expectancy for someone with type 1 diabetes back then?

  • 1
    Incidentally and FWIW (but this is not an answer), I seem to recall hearing that around that time doctors would test for sugar in urine as a means of diagnosing juvenile diabetes, and that the standard test for sugar in urine was to taste it.
    – msh210
    Jun 10 '13 at 7:23

Life for someone with diabetes in the early 20th century would be the same as someone with diabetes now if it was left untreated. The consequences of not treating diabetes include:

  • Heart Disease and Stroke
  • Blindness
  • Kidney Failure
  • Diabetic Neuropathy

The discovery of insulin as a treatment for diabetes occurred in the 1920s, so either this family member was already suffering severe consequences of diabetes or she did not obtain sufficient treatment in time. Any treatments available before the discovery of insulin were only experimental.

On a related note, I found an article in the Diabetes journal that confirms msh210's comment that testing was done by tasting the urine.

  • note that the discovery of insulin would not have prevented a death in the early-mid 1920s, as industrial scale production of insulin and worldwide availability didn't arise until later. In 1924 only a few tens of thousands of patients worldwide had access to insulin, most of them in the USA and Canada and no doubt most of those in a few major cities. Insulin at the time having a very short shelf life wouldn't make distribution any easier.
    – jwenting
    Jan 31 '19 at 11:52

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