Chances are, you’ve heard people talk about “diabetes” as if it’s a diagnosis where “everyone” living with diabetes shares the same symptoms, traits, and complications. In casual conversation, that’s understandable since each type of diabetes is related to problems with blood glucose. However, if you’re living with diabetes, you might need more information to work with – even talking about diabetes as a disease with two “types” is an oversimplification.
Are you wondering where you can learn more about the different types of diabetes? You’re in luck: in this article, the pros at ADS will help you learn more about all four types of diabetes and their defining factors.
The 4 Types of Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes
Though it isn’t the most common form of diabetes these days, type 1 diabetes is still a condition you should be familiar with. Type 1 diabetes (previously called insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes) is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults, however it can develop at any age. Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2—approximately 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1.
In America, nearly 1.6 million people have type 1 diabetes including about 187,000 children and adolescents as of 2018 per the American Diabetes Association.
People with type 1 diabetes begin experiencing symptoms due to problems with insulin production in the pancreas. When the pancreas can’t make insulin in sufficient quantities (or at all), glucose cannot enter cells like it usually would. That results in glucose buildup in the bloodstream causing high blood sugar which is damaging to the body and causes many of the symptoms and complications of diabetes.
We’re still not sure what triggers type 1 diabetes, but we know it is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction that destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin, called beta cells.
This autoimmune reaction can cause a person’s immune system to treat healthy body parts as a threat and attack them.
If you think you might have type 1 diabetes, look out for common symptoms such as unusually frequent urination, unexplained mood swings, increased thirst or hunger, and blurred vision. Untreated type 1 diabetes can lead to many complications like vision problems, and high blood pressure, which increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, and poor circulation.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, there is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes. The most effective treatment method for this disease is regular insulin injections and depending on your situation, you may use a standard needle or an insulin pump for these injections. Type 1 diabetes is also managed by following your doctor’s recommendations for living a healthy lifestyle, managing your blood sugar, getting regular health checkups, and seeking diabetes self-management education and support.
Type 2 Diabetes
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that more than 34 million Americans have diabetes (about 1 in 10), and approximately 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes most often develops in people over age 45, but more and more children, teens, and young adults are also developing it. Like type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes involves excessive blood sugar levels. However, the cause of this situation differs between the two “main” diabetes types. Many people with type 2 diabetes can produce enough insulin for their bodies. Despite this, they can run into problems with insulin resistance – that is, their cells cannot use insulin as effectively as they should. Eventually, the pancreas can’t meet this increased need for insulin, and blood glucose levels increase as a result.
There are several factors known to play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Some risk factors include being overweight, an inactive lifestyle, a family history of diabetes, age, and ethnicity. Though many of these factors are out of one’s control, a person can lower their diabetes risk by addressing others.
Many symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes are similar to those seen in type 1 diabetes. In some (but not all) cases, these symptoms don’t develop as quickly in type 2 diabetes as they do in type 1. Meanwhile, some potential complications of type 2 diabetes are sleep apnea, nerve and organ damage, skin problems, and dementia.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, people can decrease their likelihood of type 2 diabetes by making healthy lifestyle choices. These include getting increased levels of physical activity, eating a balanced diet, making an effort to lose weight, and not staying inactive for extended periods. Treatment of type 2 diabetes focuses on taking similar steps and administering medication if and when needed. Plus, you’ll need to check your blood sugar regularly. Ask your doctor how often you should check it and what your target blood sugar levels should be.
The term “gestational diabetes” refers to diabetes initially diagnosed during pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain that every year, 2% to 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes. Since it poses unique health challenges to expecting mothers and their children, you’ll want to have some understanding of gestational diabetes.
The precise cause of gestational diabetes is currently a mystery. What is known about the cause of gestational diabetes is that a hormone made by the placenta prevents the body from using insulin effectively. Glucose builds up in the blood instead of being absorbed by the cells. Unlike type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes is not caused by a lack of insulin, but by other hormones produced during pregnancy that can make insulin less effective, a condition referred to as insulin resistance. Gestational diabetic symptoms usually disappear following delivery.
Unlike other types of diabetes, most women dealing with gestational diabetes don’t have noticeable symptoms, though increased thirst levels and urination are among the symptoms that can appear. With this in mind, it’s imperative to keep an eye out for risk factors like having gestational diabetes or prediabetes in the past, having given birth to a baby weighing over nine pounds before, and extra weight (pre-pregnancy).
Since gestational diabetes is so closely related to pregnancy, it stands to reason that its complications can affect both mothers and children. Expecting mothers may find themselves dealing with high blood pressure (including preeclampsia), an increased likelihood of a C-section, and more significant risks of gestational diabetes and getting type 2 diabetes in the future. Meanwhile, their children may have an early birth, heavy birthweight, low blood sugar, breathing problems, or a heightened risk of type 2 diabetes down the line.
Your doctor will test for gestational diabetes when you become pregnant. If you get diagnosed with this condition, you’ll have to monitor your blood sugar and make lifestyle changes, which can include eating a healthy diet and getting moderate exercise regularly. Along with this, you may need insulin therapy.
Technically, prediabetes isn’t a distinct type of diabetes. Instead, it’s a condition where a person has elevated blood sugar levels that aren’t quite high enough to qualify as type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is far from uncommon since over one in three Americans is believed to have it. However, it doesn’t always have distinct symptoms, so over 84 percent of people with prediabetes don’t know they have this condition.
Prediabetes can be diagnosed with a blood sugar test. If you have this condition, it doesn’t mean a type 2 diabetes diagnosis is inevitable later on. Instead, you can significantly lower your type 2 diabetes risk by losing weight, increasing your physical activity level for example getting at least 150 minutes a week of brisk walking or a similar activity. That’s just 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and making some healthy changes to your diet.
Let Us Help You Fight Diabetes
ADS can make living with diabetes more manageable – no matter what diabetes type you have. We serve customers across the country, and we can work with your medical team to make getting the supplies you need a breeze. Choose us for insulin pumps, CGM systems, and any other diabetes-related products!