Diabetes Breakdown: The Four Main Types of Diabetes

120560217Being diagnosed with diabetes can be challenging enough without having to keep track of the four different main types (and several subtypes) of diabetes. While they all share the same name and most are generally classified as autoimmune disorders, they are also all distinct conditions with similar but unique symptoms, diagnostic methods, and treatment plans.

While Timesulin primarily deals with patients with Type 1 Diabetes (those most likely to use insulin pens regularly enough to need the Timesulin pen cap), we are often approached by people with other types who have questions. The lines are about to be even more blurred since many doctors are now beginning to realize that getting Type 2 and Type 1.5 patients on a regular insulin regimen early can help stave off some of the worst side effects of diabetes. So with those factors in mind, we wanted to write a blog post that simply and effectively broke down the different kinds of diabetes, for use as a quick reference when you need to compare and contrast.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, the one we talk about most often here, is the “classic” disease that most people think of when they hear the term diabetes. This is despite the fact that Type 1 diabetes is not the most common type, and is only found in about 10% of all people with diabetes. While it was originally called juvenile diabetes – because it is a largely hereditary disorder that tends to be diagnosed in young children – there are increasing cases of the disorder being discovered much later in life, and the “juvenile diabetes” label is now only used when specifically talking about children and young adults with Type 1 diabetes.

Over the last several decades, it has been recognized that Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disorder like Lupus or Alopecia areata (“male-pattern” baldness). That means that the disease is caused by the body’s natural defense mechanisms, the immune system, mistaking the body’s own cells for invaders and fighting them off. In the case of Type 1 Diabetes, the body attacks a kind of cell in the pancreas called a Beta cell that is in charge of producing insulin (a hormone that helps regulate the uptake of glucose by cells in the body). Without this regular supply of insulin to help cells absorb glucose, the body cannot store or consume glucose, and quickly runs out of energy.

Patients with Type 1 diabetes cannot create any insulin internally, and are thus dependent on injections of real or synthetic insulin. This is largely why Type 1 diabetes is so well known to the public despite being so rare – it’s the most visible form of diabetes. While it can take years for the beta cells to be destroyed enough for the disease to be noticed and diagnosed, the actual symptoms of the disease manifest very quickly, often in a matter of months, weeks, or sometimes even days. These symptoms include constant hunger, increased thirst, frequent urination, and unexplained weight loss (despite always eating). If you want to read more about what to look for, check out our post on the signs and symptoms of diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes is actually the most common form of diabetes in the world (affecting 85-90% of the diabetes population). Like Type 1, Type 2 causes problems by interfering with the body’s ability to use insulin to convert glucose to energy. Unlike Type 1, insulin is still produced by the body. Instead, problems arise because the receptors for insulin stop working as well as they do in healthy adults. This is why Type 2 Diabetes is also called “insulin-resistant diabetes”. As the body loses the ability to use insulin effectively, slowly it begins to produce less and less insulin. Eventually, people with Type 2 Diabetes might need to use external insulin just like those with Type 1 Diabetes.

While the exact causes of Type 2 Diabetes aren’t known, it is linked strongly to obesity – as much as 80% of the population with Type 2 Diabetes is obese. It is also linked to a family history of diabetes, as well as gestational diabetes.

The signs and symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes are very similar to those of Type 1, however the onset of symptoms is much slower and more gradual. Many of the symptoms can take months or even years to develop. In some cases, people with Type 2 Diabetes show no symptoms at all, despite having the condition.

The other major difference between Type 1 and Type 2 is that Type 2 is reversible (though not entirely curable). Through a careful management of body weight and diet, people with Type 2 Diabetes can often completely reverse symptoms and side effects, and live the rest of their lives as if they don’t have the condition.

Type 1.5 Diabetes

Also called Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults, or LADA for short, Type 1.5 Diabetes exhibits many of the symptoms of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. For an in-depth look at LADA, read our post on this growing member of the diabetes family.

Gestational Diabetes

About 3-8% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes. Unlike the other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes almost always goes away once the woman gives birth. Unfortunately, it does increase the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes within 5-10 years by almost 50%.

This type of diabetes is very strongly correlated with ethnicity and obesity. Maintaining a healthy body weight during and after pregnancy can help stave off the risk of Type 2, but certain racial groups are still much more likely to get both gestational and Type 2 diabetes.

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