Living with diabetes blog

Types of diabetes: What are the differences?

By Nancy Klobassa Davidson, R.N. and Peggy Moreland, R.N. March 16, 2013

I've noticed, recently, that more people are asking about the difference between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Some others comment that they have type 1.5 diabetes, and so on. So, what are the different types of diabetes? Let's take a look!

Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes was formerly called "juvenile diabetes" or "insulin-dependent diabetes," because 70 percent of diagnoses occur before a person reaches the age of 30. However, it can be diagnosed at any age. Only 5 percent to 10 percent of those diagnosed with diabetes have this type. With type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little to no insulin.

The onset of type 1 diabetes is usually sudden (acute) and clear-cut, when a person goes to their health care provider or the emergency room with symptoms of high blood sugar. Sometimes, a person with new-onset type 1 diabetes needs to be treated in an intensive care unit. Symptoms include increased urination, thirst or dry mouth, hunger, weight loss despite normal or increased eating, blurred vision, frequent or continuous infections and tingling or pain in the hands, feet or both.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you'll always need to take insulin, either through injections or through an insulin pump. Insulin, nutrition and activity (exercise) need to be kept in balance.

It's also key that you test your blood sugar level, generally four times a day or more, to avoid extremely high or low blood sugar.

Type 2 diabetes
This type of diabetes was previously called "adult onset diabetes." But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, type 2 diabetes has been reported among U.S. children and adolescents with increasing frequency over the past 20 years. Ninety percent of those with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. And approximately 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. With type 2 diabetes, your body either resists the effects of insulin or doesn't produce enough insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar level.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes, which are generally the same as symptoms of type 1, may come on gradually or not be noticed at all.

A healthy diet and exercise may not be enough to lower your blood sugar level to a satisfactory range. Oral or injectable medication may be needed to control your blood sugar level.

Talk with your health care provider to learn whether you need to monitor your blood sugar and, if so, what schedule you should use. Testing your blood sugar and keeping a record on a regular basis is an important tool to help you learn the relationship between food and your blood sugar level.

Gestational diabetes
This type of diabetes, which causes high blood sugar, develops during pregnancy (gestation) and is caused by increased production of hormones that make the body less able to use insulin as well as it should. Most gestational diabetes goes away after birth but it does put you at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later. Healthy eating and being active may decrease the risk of developing subsequent type 2 diabetes.

Surgically induced diabetes
When surgery is performed on the pancreas for any reason, there's a risk that its ability to produce insulin will change. This condition may be temporary or permanent. If you have this type of surgery, frequent testing of blood sugar is needed to monitor whether or when medications or insulin injections may be necessary.

Chemically induced diabetes
Some types of medication can cause your blood sugar level to be higher than normal. Steroids, specifically cortisone or prednisone, are the most common cause of such high blood sugar. Treatment may include prescription oral diabetes medication or insulin.

Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) or type 1.5 diabetes
Scientists have identified several other diabetes subtypes beyond types 1 and 2. LADA is a more slowly progressing variation of type 1 diabetes and is often misdiagnosed as type 2. It's most common in those age 35 and older.

Ultimately, regardless of the type of diabetes you have, the best way for you to care for yourself is to eat healthfully, test your blood sugar as recommended by your health care provider, schedule routine follow-up care with your health care team, take your oral medication, insulin or both, and wear a medical alert bracelet or other identifier if you take insulin. Blood pressure control and cholesterol management is also important.

Even if you don't have diabetes, healthy eating and exercise is good for you and may even prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Have a great week!

Peggy

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Mar. 16, 2013