What's the difference?

Types of diabetes

Meeting new people has pin pointed everyone's number 1 question about type 1 diabetes: "what's the difference between type 1 and 2?"
I'm not an expert, but I'll endeavour to cover some of the many (yes more than two!) types of diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

I'm going to be a narcissist and talk about my type first :)
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease- meaning that the immune system has malfunctioned in a certain way to prompt an attack on itself. Your pancreas has two main functions: 1 involves digestion, the other involves the secretion of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows for sugar in the blood stream to be balanced and used effectively in the body. Sugar is always present in our blood, however more is introduced when we eat carbohydrates. The role of insulin is to balance this sugar level. In type 1 diabetes the immune system has attacked the beta cells of the pancreas (the cells that produce insulin). This means that the process cannot take place and there is a severe build up of sugar in the blood. Type 1 diabetics must use inject insulin themselves- acting as their own pancreas. The goal is to get a balance of sugars- too high is bad, too low is equally bad.
How long does it last? Optimistically: Until they find a cure. Pessimistically: Forever.
How old do you have to be to get it? It usually it strikes young children however anyone and everyone may be at risk.
How do you get it? As yet, there is great uncertainty surrounding the cause. It has been ruled out that type 1 is NOT caused by excessive sugar in the diet. It's believed a combination of a genetic predisposition and an environmental trigger such as a particular virus strain cause type 1.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes- accounting for around 80% of all cases. Type 2, like type 1 is caused by a genetic predisposition, but also environmental factors such as damaging lifestyle habits such as excessive sugar/fat intake- particularly if this intake results in obesity. This means that approximately 60% of type 2 cases can be prevented. Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetics still make insulin, but the insulin they make cannot be used effectively in the body. This is called "insulin-resistance". Luckily, insulin resistance can frequently be treated with exercise and a healthy diet. In other cases type 2 diabetics may take tablet to maintain their blood sugar and in more severe cases they must take insulin injections like type 1 diabetics. It is important to note however that there IS a genetic predisposition to the disease, it isn't fair to engage in "victim blaming" saying its their fault.
How long does it last? Like type 1 there is no complete cure, though improvement may be made
How old do you have to be to get it? Originally, type 2 struck those starting from the age of 40, however in recent times with changes in our dietary habits, cases are getting younger and younger with type 2 being seen in some teenagers.

This type of diabetes is also called impaired glucose metabolism. People with pre diabetes are not yet presenting with blood sugars high enough to be considered diabetes. Whilst they may not necessarily get type 2 diabetes, they have a heightened chance of it. Pre-diabetes is often seen as a warning sign, to get weight levels under control and eating habits improved. Pre-Diabetes is more common in those who have a predisposition to type 2 from their family history, however it is possible in those without this history.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes that occurs in the later stages of pregnancy for a small proportion of women. It may occur due to being overweight, over a particular age or having other health conditions. Unlike other forms of diabetes, it disappears after the birth of the child, however it leaves both mother and child with a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

LADA (Type 1.5 diabetes)
LADA is probably the most unheard of type of diabetes. It is a form of type 1 diabetes that occurs in adults- it is a late onset disease. Symptoms progress far slower than in type 1 and the condition may be managed with an altered diet or oral medications for some time. Those with LADA are often misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes due to their weight or family history, however this is incorrect as LADA is an autoimmune disease in the same way type 1 is. The disease does progress and may eventually lead to the same treatment requirements as type 1.

Again, I'm not an expert- definitely research if you're interested. But I hope that breaks down the types of diabetes and answers that all too common question: "What's the difference?"


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