Diabetes is Not One Disease; it’s a Group of Diseases

Diabetes is often referred to as a disease, but it's actually more than that-- quite a few more. Diabetes is the label under which a host of related metabolic diseases are filed. They seem similar because they're all related to blood glucose stability and the body's ability to produce and utilize insulin, but they are actually quite different.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the cells that produce insulin are destroyed. This type used to be known as 'juvenile diabetes' because it almost always occurred in childhood, however it is now known to occasionally present itself in adults. It's known as 'Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood' (LADA) or sometimes Type 1.5 diabetes.

Type 2

This type of diabetes is a metabolic disorder which occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin, and the body's ability to produce enough insulin is decreased. Both genetics and environmental factors, such as weight and diet, play a role.

Type 2 usually onsets in adulthood, though some children are now contracting Type 2 diabetes. Unlike Type 1, Type 2 is often preventable and occasionally reversible.

On rare occasions, some people have both Type 1 and Type 2; this is known as 'double diabetes'.

Type 3

A new form of diabetes has recently been discovered. You've probably heard of it by its more common name: Alzheimer's disease. This disease, commonly associated with aging, is actually a late in life form of diabetes that occurs when the brain becomes resistant to insulin.

Gestational Diabetes

Also known as 'pregnancy diabetes', this form occurs during pregnancy when hormones make the mother more insulin resistant. A number of factors contribute to a woman's risk of gestational diabetes, and contracting it usually means you're at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. But gestational diabetes typically goes away as soon as the baby is born.

Secondary Diabetes

Secondary diabetes are conditions caused by other factors. In rare cases diabetes can be induced by steroids, medication or surgery. This type is often irreversible.

Knowing which type you have can help you educate yourself on the special conditions surrounding your condition, so if you’re not sure, talk to your health care provider.

Photo: WBUR