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A doctor informing a mom and her child about diabetes treatment.

What are the Different Types of Diabetes?

Types of Diabetes and Their Symptoms

Many people have heard of diabetes, but may not understand what exactly the condition is, or that there are different types of diabetes. Diabetes is a blanket term that means “the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin, or when the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces.”

There are three common types of diabetes – type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. There are also several lesser known types of diabetes, such as maturity-onset diabetes of the young, more commonly referred to as MODY. There is even a type of diabetes called diabetes insipidus, which is unrelated to the previously mentioned types of diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition; this means that the immune system mistakes the beta cells of the pancreas foreign and attacks them. The beta cells are responsible for insulin production; once they are attacked, they are no longer able to make insulin. Once there is an absence of insulin, those with type 1 diabetes will require exogenous insulin administration for survival.

Type 1 diabetes develops typically quickly in children; it is often not diagnosed until diabetic ketoacidosis occurs. Diabetic ketoacidosis is an emergency medical condition in which there is an absence of insulin in the body. Because there is no insulin, the body breaks down fat for energy, causing ketones to build up. This is a dangerous situation for those with type 1 diabetes and occasionally those with type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes may occur quickly in adulthood but is more likely to develop slowly. This subtype of type 1 diabetes is called latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood, or LADA. Many people refer to this as “type 1.5 diabetes.” The tricky thing about LADA is that it is often misdiagnosed until blood glucose levels become dangerously high – it is often treated as type 2 diabetes initially, because it can progress for years before insulin is required.

Treatment of type 1 diabetes involves monitoring of blood glucose and careful administration of insulin.

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Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes; it occurs in 90% of all cases. In this type of diabetes, the body is unable to use the insulin that is produced effectively – it is characterized by insulin resistance. This means that the body may be making enough insulin – perhaps even excess insulin – but the body is unable to use the insulin effectively.

The best treatment for type 2 diabetes is a balanced diet – limiting carbohydrates – and getting plenty of exercise. Exercise is known to improve insulin resistance, improving the likelihood that the body can use its own insulin effectively.

Other treatment options for type 2 diabetes are oral medications, injectable medications and insulin. Most people with type 2 diabetes are also recommended to monitor their blood glucose levels.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes, or GDM, occurs only in pregnancy. It typically develops mid-pregnancy. As such, healthcare providers screen for it between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.

GDM often occurs without cause. A perfectly healthy woman can develop GDM during one pregnancy and not develop it during another. This is because it develops because of issues with the placenta. Typically, the pancreas produces the correct amount of insulin needed to move glucose from the bloodstream to areas that are needed.

During pregnancy, the placenta causes hormones to be excreted. Most of these hormones can cause insulin resistance. Even those without GDM can have higher than normal glucose levels. It becomes an issue when these levels reach a threshold and GDM is diagnosed.

GDM is treated with frequent glucose monitoring, exercise and dietary modifications. When these treatments fail, insulin is used to control glucose levels until the baby is born.

MODY

MODY behaves most like type 2 diabetes, but it typically occurs in those who are not obese. It typically occurs before the age of 25 and is slowly developing.

According to the World Health Organization, “MODY displays an autosomal dominant pattern inheritance, generally spanning three generations. Because of advances in molecular genetics, it is now
known that there are at least six forms of MODY, each of which caused by a mutation in a different
gene that is directly involved with beta cell function.”

Treatment of MODY is dependent on the specific type, but most types of MODY can be treated with diet and oral medications. Occasionally insulin is required.

Diabetes Insipidus

Diabetes insipidus, or DI, is an uncommon disorder that causes imbalances of the fluids in the body. Like the other types of diabetes, DI can cause excess thirst and excess urination, but blood glucose levels will be normal – unless there is a preexisting diabetes diagnosis.

DI often occurs due to an issue with anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) or vasopressin; ADH and vasopressin help the body regulate fluid excretion. When these hormones are not excreted properly, vast amounts of urine – perhaps as much as 20 quarts per day – may be excreted.

Treatment varies based on the severity and the specific cause.

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