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Overview Overview Which types of diabetes are there?

Which types of diabetes are there?

2/21/2022    |    0 min read

Did you know diabetes exists in different forms? Prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes and gestational diabetes are all variations of the condition. But what is type 2 diabetes? Does it differ from type 1? Are they related to gestational diabetes? What causes prediabetes? Read on to answer these questions and learn more about the different types of diabetes.

Diabetes occurs when an individual’s body does not regulate glucose and insulin like someone without diabetes. The four most common types of diabetes are: type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes, prediabetes and gestational diabetes. While all four are characterized by changes in glucose and insulin regulation, they differ in unique ways. To better understand these differences it is important to recognize the roles glucose and insulin play in the body.

Glucose is a type of sugar that fuels our body by providing energy to our cells. You may also hear glucose referred to as blood sugar or blood glucose as it travels to our cells through our blood. Glucose enters our bloodstream from digesting the food we eat and is delivered to cells for energy. Our liver stores glucose as well and can release it into our body as needed, like when we are sleeping.

While glucose is needed to keep our body functioning properly, it cannot be used for energy without insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas. You can think of insulin as a key that can unlock the cell “doors'' and allow glucose to enter. When glucose enters through the cell “door” it is removed from the bloodstream and used for energy or stored for later.

Now that we’ve covered the basic mechanism of glucose and insulin, let’s dive into how they play a role in the specific types of diabetes:

What is type 2 diabetes?

  • Type 2 diabetes is when the pancreas makes plenty of insulin, but the cells aren’t recognizing it like it should, leading to elevated glucose.This is also called insulin resistance. The body usually responds to insulin resistance and rising blood glucose by making more and more insulin. If we go back to the analogy that insulin is a key to unlock our cell ‘doors’ some of the glucose is “locked out” and unable to be used as energy properly. Type 2 diabetes can progress to the point where the pancreas produces less of its own insulin, in which case, insulin injections are usually needed.
  • There is no one cause for type 2 diabetes. There are a number of factors that could play a role in its development such as genetics, physical inactivity, previous history of gestational diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, smoking and other environmental factors.
  • A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is considered when an individual’s A1c is over 6.4%. A1c, also known as HbA1c or hemoglobin A1c, is a 2-3 month average of blood glucose levels. A higher percentage indicates higher overall blood sugar levels. If you want to know your current A1c order an at-home test kit here.

What is prediabetes?

  • Prediabetes is when glucose levels are elevated, but not enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. The A1C range for prediabetes is 5.7-6.4%. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes greatly increases after an individual has been diagnosed with prediabetes.
  • Prediabetes is often first treated with changes to lifestyle habits such as increasing physical activity, improving the quality of the foods eaten, stress management, and more. Those changes don’t necessarily have to be major ones - small steps can make a big difference.
  • The American Diabetes Association (ADA) also states that some people with prediabetes may benefit from taking a medication called Metformin, the first line treatment for type 2 diabetes.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes in adults?

  • There are usually no symptoms associated with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, so screening for it with an A1c test starting at age 35 (or earlier for some people) is recommended by the ADA.
  • When type 2 diabetes progresses to the point where blood sugars have been elevated for many years without treatment, symptoms can include excessive thirst and urination, fatigue and hunger, blurry vision and even fast unexpected weight loss
  • If you are concerned you may have diabetes or prediabetes, speak with your doctor or consider completing an A1C test. Your doctor can schedule an appointment to complete this lab work or you can complete the A1c test entirely in the comfort of your own home. The 9amHealth at home test kits also include a free consultation with one of our Diabetes Care Specialists.

What is type 1 diabetes?

  • Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and is characterized by the inability to produce enough insulin. This happens when the insulin producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed by the body’s immune system. Eventually, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar in target range.
  • Genetics and environmental factors, like exposure to a virus, can contribute to the development of type 1 diabetes, but it’s still not fully understood why it develops.
  • The fundamental way type 1 diabetes differs from type 2 diabetes is that type 1 is an autoimmune condition that leads to little to no insulin production whereas type 2 leads to insulin resistance. Previously it was thought that type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in children and that type 2 is diagnosed in adults, but both types of diabetes can be diagnosed at any age.

What are the signs of type 1 diabetes?

  • The signs and symptoms of type 1 include excessive thirst, urination, hunger and fatigue as well as sudden weight loss. It is important to be aware of other symptoms such as vomiting and an acetone (fruity smelling) breath, as they are signs of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a symptom more common in type 1 diabetes. DKA requires immediate medical attention and could result in death if left untreated.

What is gestational diabetes?

  • Changes to the body during pregnancy can lead to insulin resistance resulting in gestational diabetes. The accompanying elevated blood sugar can impact both the person who is pregnant and the child. This type of diabetes happens only during pregnancy and blood glucose levels return to normal levels after giving birth.
  • People who have a family history of type 2 diabetes, carry excess weight around their midsection or have polycystic ovary syndrome are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. Increasing physical activity and making changes to eating habits before and during pregnancy can help prevent gestational diabetes.
  • Complications of gestational diabetes include giving birth to a child with excessive weight, premature birth, and preeclampsia.
  • 9amHealth is currently not treating women with gestational diabetes.
What are the signs of gestational diabetes?
  • Just like type 2 diabetes, signs and symptoms of gestational diabetes may not be noticable. Sometimes symptoms can include excessive thirst, urination hunger and fatigue, but those are normal during a typical pregnancy anyway! The key is to have a doctor perform routine blood work to check glucose levels and act quickly if they’re elevated.
  • Elevated blood glucose levels typically return to baseline after giving birth, however those who have had gestational diabetes are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Personalized care for people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes

Diabetes can present in many forms, however each type involves changes in insulin production or recognition of it by the cells, resulting in higher than normal blood sugar levels. No matter the type, diabetes management is completely individualized with no one size fits all approach. If you are interested in learning more about ways to manage your prediabetes or type 2 diabetes visit 9amHealth.

If you are living with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, 9amHealth is available to help create a care plan unique to your needs. From online prescriptions to a personal medical team, you’ll have affordable, personalized and kind healthcare at your fingertips. Complete a free online visit today to learn more!

About the authors

Karina Nwoko is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist who specializes in nutrition education, weight-loss counseling, and chronic disease management. She utilizes writing to provide evidence-based wellness content to businesses and brands. Outside of work you can find Karina literally running around Orlando, Florida where she enjoys training for road races and exploring the restaurant scene.

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