Diabetes has become a very common lifestyle disease of today. Almost every third person one meets has one or the other type of diabetes. Diabetes is also the most commonly occurring disorder of the endocrine (or hormone) system. Diabetes occurs when the blood sugar levels in the body persistently start staying well above normal (1).
Diabetes is a disease is brought on by the body’s inability to either manufacture insulin, known as type-1 diabetes or by the body’s inability to respond to the effects of insulin, known as type-2 diabetes. Diabetes can also affect women during pregnancy and then disappear never to be seen again. As you can see, there are many types of diabetes and today we will make an effort to understand the different types of diabetes that affect people around the world.
What are the Main Types of Diabetes?
Typically, the medical world considers there to be three major types of diabetes that affect people. These include (1):
- Type-1 diabetes (1).
- Type-2 diabetes (1).
- Gestational diabetes (1).
When a person has diabetes, the body either does not produce sufficient or any insulin altogether, or the body is not able to properly use the insulin that is being produced. There can also be a possibility that the body exhibits a combination of both circumstances. When any of these situations arises, the body fails to get sugar from the bloodstream into the cells. This causes higher levels of blood sugar, which can lead to many health problems.
Let us look at the causes of each type of diabetes.
Causes of Each Type of Diabetes
Some of the Causes are:
Type-1 Diabetes & Its Causes
Type-1 diabetes is known as an autoimmune condition, meaning that your immune system has, by mistake, started attacking and destroying the beta cells of your pancreas. The beta cells found in your pancreas are responsible for producing insulin. When the immune system destroys these beta cells, the damage done is permanent. It is believed that both environmental and genetic factors are responsible behind the immune system going ‘rogue’, though the exact cause of type-1 diabetes still remains unclear.
Type-2 Diabetes & Its Causes
Typically type-2 diabetes begins as insulin resistance, a condition where your body is unable to use insulin properly. When this condition occurs, it forces your body to stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin. This stimulation continues until the pancreas can no longer keep up with the body’s demand for insulin.
Once the body reaches this stage, production of insulin decreases, causing high blood sugar, i.e. type-2 diabetes.
Similar to type-1 diabetes, the exact cause of type-2 diabetes is also unknown, though some contributing factors for type-2 diabetes are believed to be:
- Overweight or obesity (1).
- Family history or genetics (1).
- Lack of exercise (1).
- Environmental reasons.
- Other health factors (1).
Gestational Diabetes & Its Causes
Gestational diabetes, as the name itself suggests, only occurs during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes happens due to the production of insulin-blocking hormones during pregnancy.
Symptoms of Different Types of Diabetes
The different types of diabetes do not generally have different symptoms. Generalized symptoms of diabetes include:
- Frequent urination (1).
- Blurry vision (1).
- Excessive hunger and thirst (1).
- Fatigue and/or drowsiness (1).
- Dry and/or itchy skin.
- Slow-healing of wounds (1).
Type-1 diabetes tends to develop more rapidly than type-2 diabetes (1). Type-1 diabetes also causes symptoms, such as weight loss or a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis. The condition of diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when you are suffering from very high levels of blood sugar, but there is no insulin or very little insulin present in the body.
Meanwhile, type-2 diabetes can cause dark patches to appear on the folds of skin around your neck and your armpits. Type-2 diabetes takes longer to diagnose, though you may continue to feel the symptoms, such as pain and/or numbness in your feet and legs.
The symptoms of diabetes can appear at any age, though type-1 diabetes tends to occur typically in young adults and children, whereas type-2 diabetes occurs in people who are slightly older, above the age of 45-50 years. However, lately, it has been observed that even young people are being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes frequently due to the sedentary lifestyles that have now become popular, along with an increase in their weight.
Complications of Each Diabetes Type
The complications of diabetes do not develop overnight. Over a period of time, you come to know the various complications of each type of diabetes. When the body has poor control over its blood sugar levels, it increases the risk of several types of serious complications that may very well become life-threatening as well. Some of the chronic complications of diabetes, common to both types of the condition, include:
- Eye problems, commonly known as retinopathy (4).
- Skin conditions or infections.
- Vessel disease that may lead to a stroke or heart attack (4).
- Nerve damage, also known as neuropathy (4).
- Kidney damage, known as nephropathy (4).
There may also be a requirement of limb amputations over a period of time due to neuropathy or vessel disease from diabetes (4).
Type-2 diabetes is also known to increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease later on in life (5), particularly if you do not control your blood sugar levels.
Complications from Gestational Diabetes
The complications arising from gestational diabetes increases the risk of:
- High blood pressure.
- Birth defects (4).
- Stillbirth or even miscarriage.
Treatment for Each Type of Diabetes
Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, it is still necessary to keep it under control and to do that you need to work together with your doctor. The primary goal of diabetes treatment is to maintain your blood sugar levels within the target range, as prescribed by your doctor. These target ranges vary from person to person, depending on the diabetes type, your age, overall health, as well as the presence of any complications.
In the case of gestational diabetes, blood glucose targets are typically lower than people suffering from type-1 or type-2 diabetes.
Management of any type of diabetes places a lot of importance on physical activity or exercise. You should definitely inquire from your doctor about how many minutes per week you should be devoting to aerobic exercise along with what kind of exercise will be the best fit for you. Diet is also another important factor for controlling your blood sugar and you will need to maintain a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle in order to control your blood sugar levels in any type of diabetes.
Treatment for Type-1 Diabetes
Type-1 diabetes patients need to take insulin in order to live since the damage to their pancreas is permanent. There are many different types of insulin available and they vary according to the times of onset, peak and their duration (6).
Insulin gets injected just under your skin and your doctor or a nurse will guide you on how to properly inject yourself as well as how to rotate the injection sites regularly for treating diabetes. Apart from injections, treatment of diabetes also consists of you can also make use of an insulin pump, a device that is worn outside the body and is programmed to release a specific dose of insulin into the body at a certain time of the day (6). Nowadays, you can also buy continuous blood glucose monitors that will keep a check on your blood sugar levels 24 hours a day.
If you have type-1 diabetes, you need to constantly monitor your blood sugar levels during the day (6). Apart from insulin, you may also need to take medications for controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Treatment for Type-2 Diabetes
Patients of type-2 diabetes manage their condition with exercise and diet (7). Diabetic patients are also prescribed various medications for controlling their blood sugar. The first medication that the diabetic patients are usually put on includes metformin, which is available under several brand names such as Riomet, Fortamet, Glumetza, and Glucophage (8, 9). Metformin helps the body use insulin in a more effective manner.
If metformin does not work for you, then your doctor goes ahead and adds further medications or tries a different approach for treatment.
Even in type-2 diabetes, monitoring blood sugar levels is a must. You also need to keep monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and if required, also take medications for the same.
Can Diabetes Be Prevented?
You can lower the risk of getting type-2 diabetes by following a healthy diet and lifestyle. You can also prevent type-2 diabetes by:
- Exercising regularly (1).
- Avoid smoking.
- Control your cholesterol levels.
- Avoid food high in triglycerides.
As of today, science has shown that there is perhaps nothing we can do to prevent type-1 diabetes.
If you get gestational diabetes, then following these above-mentioned tips as well as having a healthy lifestyle will delay or even prevent the onset of type-2 diabetes.
The causes of diabetes are not clearly understood. There is also no cure for type-1 diabetes and it requires lifelong management of symptoms (2). However, with constant monitoring and following the prescribed treatment, it is possible to avoid serious complications of type-1 diabetes.
Type-2 diabetes is managed with the help of medications and a healthy lifestyle.
Gestational diabetes gets resolved on its own once you deliver your baby, though you remain at a higher risk of getting type-2 diabetes later on in your life (1).
Lawrence, R.D., 1951. Types of human diabetes. British medical journal, 1(4703), p.373.
Rother, K.I., 2007. Diabetes treatment—bridging the divide. The New England journal of medicine, 356(15), p.1499.
Lawrence, R.D., 1951. Types of human diabetes. British medical journal, 1(4703), p.373.
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