The Many Faces of Diabetes: Beyond Type 1 and Type 2

Diabetes is not actually a single disease but a group of them, all of which cause increased blood sugar.

The symptoms start easily enough: frequent urination, increased hunger and thirst, and rapid weight loss. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to heart and kidney failure, coma, and other life-threatening complications.

Type 1 vs Type 2

Type 1 diabetes was once referred to as “juvenile diabetes” because it occurred most often in young children. However, the more accurate description is insulin-dependent diabetes because the pancreas stops producing enough insulin for the body. Daily insulin treatments are needed with this type of diabetes.

Type 2 was originally called “adult-onset diabetes” but because of an overall increase in child obesity, children are being diagnosed with this type of diabetes more frequently. In this case your body rejects the insulin it produces or doesn’t produce enough to maintain a healthy blood sugar. There are a range of treatments beyond daily insulin injections for type 2 diabetes.

Other Types of Diabetes

While type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the most common types of diabetes, there are a number of other, less-known versions as well.

Gestational diabetes is found in pregnant women who develop an insulin deficiency and hadn’t previously been diagnosed with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. After the birth of the child, typically insulin production will go back to normal, but there is an increased chance for type 2 diabetes later.

Another type of diabetes is called surgically-induced diabetes. When doctors operate on the pancreas, that can affect how much insulin it produces. This condition can be temporary like gestational diabetes, or can require daily insulin treatments like with type 1. Another type of diabetes is chemically-induced diabetes, often as a side-effect from certain medications such as steroids.

The final type of diabetes is a sign that this disease may be even more complex than we know. Occasionally called “type 1.5 diabetes,” latent autoimmune diabetes in adults is a form of type 1 diabetes that manifests itself well into adulthood. In the past it was misdiagnosed as type 2, hence the nickname.

Sources: CDC, NIH, Mayo Clinic
Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archive via Flickr Creative Commons

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