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Different Types of Diabetes

Sure, by this point, you're probably familiar with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but did you know there are over seven different types of diabetes mellitus? The list includes type 1, type 2, latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA or type 1.5), gestational, mature onset diabetes of the young (MODY), monogenic diabetes, neonatal diabetes, and type 3c diabetes.

Different Types of Diabetes

Let’s face it: diabetes is a drag—there’s no ideal diabetes type, and each comes with a heavy burden. If you’re recently diagnosed with diabetes, the best advice is to become your own advocate. Do the research, explore various treatment options, and stay optimistic.

Researchers are on the cutting edge with islet cell transplants, new tubeless, wireless pump therapy, and fabulous technology like bionic pumps and continuous glucose monitors that do the work for you. There hasn’t been a cure since smallpox over 200 years ago—diabetes is due!

If you think you may have diabetes, the first step, in addition to seeking medical care, is to learn the facts. The best way to prevent diabetes complications is to keep your blood glucose level in check.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, insulin dependent diabetes, sugar disease or sweet blood sickness, was first noticed 3,000 years ago. Archeologists discovered depictions in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and researchers found narratives in ancient Indian, Arab, and Chinese medical papers.

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal. High blood glucose results from the body's inability to use or store blood sugar for energy.

In diabetes, there is either a lack of insulin or an insulin distribution problem. The hormone insulin helps blood glucose (sugar) enter the body’s cells. Without sugar, our cells become starved for energy and the sugar remains trapped in the bloodstream. It’s dangerous for high blood glucose levels to rise, and consistently high levels may cause severe problems like vision loss, kidney disease,  heart disease,  and cardiovascular disease.

It wasn’t until 1921 that Frederick Banting took insulin from a dog’s pancreas and administered the hormone to a type 1 patient. Before insulin, doctors used strict low-carb diets for treatments, virtually starving the patients. Little did Banting know his miracle invention would be one of the most significant discoveries to humanity, and 100 years later, it would continue to save millions of lives and be the leading treatment for the disease.

Know the Symptoms of Diabetes (The Four T’s)

The symptoms may vary depending on the individual, but the main ones are consistently known as the Four T’s:

Toilet: Frequent urination is common among individuals with high blood sugar levels. Glucose is lost in the urine, causing dehydration. Frequent urination is common, particularly at night.

Thirst: People experience excessive thirst and are constantly craving drinks.

Tired: Individuals become exhausted, lacking energy, with only the desire to sleep.

Thinner: People may experience unexplained weight loss or muscle loss. Without insulin, your body breaks down its own fat and muscle.

Other Signs of T1D Include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme hunger
  • High blood glucose levels
  • Dry skin conditions and rashes
  • Poor healing
  • Fruity breath or urine
  • Infections

How Do I Know What Type of Diabetes I Have?

Nowadays, testing is available to determine what type of diabetes you have. A blood glucose test involves a finger prick or blood draw. The test measures the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood and is used to diagnose and monitor the most common types of diabetes.


Diabetes Testing

Also, the A1C (hemoglobin A1C or HbA1C) hemoglobin A1C test is a leading tool for testing glycemic control and improving diabetes care.

It measures the average blood sugar levels over the past three months. The test results are evaluated and reported as high (above 6.5%), considered diabetes, prediabetes or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) (5.7% to 6.4%), and normal A1C level, which is 5.7% and below. 

Diligent testing minimizes diabetes risks and keeps blood sugars in a healthy range. However, it wasn’t always such a simple prognosis. In the past, doctors often misdiagnosed or overlapped types, especially confusing adult-onset type 1 diabetes or LADA with type 2 diabetes. Though there are health problems associated with both, 1D is an autoimmune disease for which there is no cure. In type 2 diabetes, your body isn't making enough insulin, or the insulin isn't working properly.

Most importantly, with the correct diagnosis, you can get on with your life faster. Each type has different treatments, so you must know what kind you have and stay on top of your care.

Here are the different types of diabetes below:

Whereas there used only to be two main types of diabetes, there are now several. One common thread is that individuals experience high and low blood sugar as a side effect of the disease and serious complications if not managed.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, formerly juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease where the pancreatic beta cells stop producing insulin, requiring patients to become insulin dependent for life. In this autoimmune reaction, the body attacks the cells in your pancreas that make insulin. Insulin is the key that unlocks the cell’s door to release the glucose that gives energy to the cells. Without insulin, more glucose builds up in your bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar levels. When this happens, people experience a life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). In DKA, the bloodstream becomes acidic, and you develop dangerous levels of ketones.

The different causes of T1D are undetermined, but gene and environmental factors may play a role.

Type 1.5 Diabetes (Adult-Onset Diabetes) or LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults)

LADA confused the population for years as it wasn’t quite type 1 (juvenile diabetes) or type 2 (which generally affects older individuals). Symptoms can occur in adults aged 18-45, particularly around 30. Like type 1, the pancreas stops making insulin, but unlike type 1, the process is slower, so many people with LADA are mistakenly diagnosed with type 2.

Initially, LADA can be managed with exercise, diet, and possibly medicine taken by mouth to lower blood sugar, but eventually, these patients will need ongoing insulin therapy. Talk to your healthcare provider about the proper treatment and diagnosis.

Type 2 Diabetes

The most common type of diabetes is type 2. The difference between type 1, 1.5 and type 2 is that type 2 individuals may still produce insulin (the cells aren’t being attacked like in type 1), but the body’s cells become resistant. So, with insulin resistance, the blood glucose levels rise, and your body can’t produce the large amounts of insulin necessary to keep your blood sugar normal.

Interesting Fact: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a lifelong condition that can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is because people with PCOS often have insulin resistance,

Risk factors of T2D are being overweight and inactive. What's more, with healthy lifestyle choices, T2D can often be reversed. Other indicators include family history, age and race.

Before developing type 2, most people have prediabetes, where blood sugar levels are higher than normal and need to be monitored. In some instances, with lifestyle changes, you can avoid full-blown type 2 diabetes.

Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY)

MODY is a rare form of diabetes, different from type 1, and typically hereditary. If a parent has this gene mutation, any child they have has a 50 percent chance of inheriting it and developing it before age 25.

It usually develops in adolescence or early adulthood and only accounts for around five percent of all U.S. cases. Like the other types, MODY limits the body’s ability to produce insulin, causing high blood sugar levels, which can damage the body over time.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes can develop during pregnancy, affecting women who haven’t had diabetes before. The patient’s high blood sugar needs to be monitored, and the mother needs to include a healthy diet and active regime. This type usually goes away after giving birth and is typically diagnosed with a blood test 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy. This can be a serious complication if left untreated and should be diagnosed as soon as possible as it gets progressively worse.

Type 3c Diabetes

Type 3c is a type of diabetes that develops when another disease causes damage to the pancreas. The conditions related to 3c are pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis and hemochromatosis. You can also develop type 3c if your pancreas is removed for other reasons.

Neonatal Diabetes

This rare form of diabetes is diagnosed in babies under six months. It’s not an autoimmune disorder like in type 1 patients. A genetic mutation causes neonatal diabetes. The condition may disappear in approximately half of infants diagnosed but can recur later in life.

Monogenic Diabetes

Monogenic diabetes or genetic diabetes is a rare type of diabetes that's caused by a mutation in a single gene. Monogenic diabetes accounts for 1–4% of all diabetes cases in the United States.

Diabetes Insipidus (DI)

Diabetes insipidus, also known as water diabetes, is a rare condition that causes the body to produce large amounts of urine due to problems with the hormone vasopressin (AVP). According to the Mayo Clinic, AVP regulates the amount of fluid in the body. 

Treatment for all Types

Individuals should seek health information immediately from a qualified healthcare professional where their diabetes care team can assist with monitoring their treatment. You’ll be taught how to match insulin with your food intake. Some type 2 patients dealing with insulin resistance can regulate their diabetes with oral medications and lifestyle factors, healthy food choices, while others need insulin shots. Insulin injections come in various forms (needles to infusion set pumps).

You need to oversee your health and minimize the risks of complications. The aim is to keep your blood glucose levels in good range to control the symptoms, eat a healthy balanced diet, exercise regularly, stop smoking if you are, and get emotional support. Diabetes is challenging but manageable.

Remember, self-advocacy raises awareness, and awareness saves lives!

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