Seven Types of Diabetes and Their Prevalence

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By : Suvarna Sheth

Most people are familiar with the more common forms of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.  But, did you know there are other forms of the disease as well?  Often, due to the complexity of the disease, it’s hard to diagnose and distinguish between the various forms.  For starters, we will explore the different types of the disease, what makes them different from each other, and how prevalent they are in the United States.

Type 1 Diabetes: 5% of the population

Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults and was once referred as juvenile diabetes.  In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells (called beta cells) in the pancreas.  As a result, the body does not produce insulin.  According to the American Diabetes Society, approximately 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.  With proper care and management, those with type 1 can lead strong and healthy lives.

Type 2 Diabetes: 85-90% of the population

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease as it accounts for almost 85-90% of all the people living with diabetes today.

This type of diabetes results from a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Even though there is a strong attachment of genetic factors to the development of this type of diabetes, the risking of having type 2 diabetes heightens with factors that may be more lifestyle choices including being overweight, having high blood pressure, leading a sedentary life, and having high cholesterol.

Type 2 diabetes happens when the body is not able to properly use the insulin produced by the beta cells in the pancreas – called insulin resistance or when the body is not producing enough insulin – beta cell dysfunction. The effect of this type of diabetes is often a dangerous rise in blood sugar levels.

Many people lived with type 2 diabetes for years without any symptoms to tell them they are having such health condition. While these people have no obvious symptoms, some people have symptoms that are mistaken for symptoms of getting older. However, some of the possible symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Frequent feeling of tiredness
  • Skin infections
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent feeling of hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Slow healing of cuts
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Headaches
  • Leg cramps

When you start experiencing any of these above-listed symptoms, it is wise that you quickly speak to your doctor or health care provider to properly diagnose and tell you what to do.

Gestational Diabetes: 2-5% of women

Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women.  It is usually detected mid-way through the pregnancy at 24-28 weeks by taking a glucose test.  If the patient fails the test, further testing will take place.  Gestational diabetes can be managed by following a customized diet and exercise plan and with frequent monitoring of blood-glucose levels.  If treated, the pregnancy and delivery can be healthy.  Gestational diabetes usually goes away after delivery but it’s important to make all the follow-up appointments.

Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood (LADA): 10-25% of people

Like type 1 diabetes, LADA occurs when the body stops producing enough insulin.  Unlike type 1, however, the signs and symptoms of type 1 progress much slower and insulin may still be produced, though at a slower rate.  LADA diagnosis can be confused with type 2 diabetes.  LADA is identified by testing of specific antibodies.  According to an ADA study, Among patients with phenotypic type 2 diabetes, LADA occurs in 10% of individuals older than 35 years and in 25% below that age.

Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY): 1-2% of people

MODY is a very rare form of diabetes and is caused by a mutation change in a single gene which disrupts insulin production.  It can affect any age.  There are 11 types of MODY diabetes and each diagnosis will have a different diagnosis.  MODY 1, 3, and 4 can be managed with medicines called sulfonylureas. MODY 2 can be treated with a proper diet and exercise. MODY 5 may need multiple treatments and MODY 7-11 were only recently discovered.

Neonatal Diabetes Mellitus (NDA): 1 in 400,000 infants in the U.S.

NDM is diagnosed very early in infants, anywhere from birth to 6 months old.  Approximately 1 in 400,000 infants in the United States are affected by NDM.  The condition can be mistaken for type 1 diabetes, however, there is a difference because type 1 is rarely seen in patients before 6 months of age.  There are 20 different genes that can cause NDM.  The condition can be temporary and disappear later, called transient neonatal diabetes mellitus (TNDM) or it can be permanent (PNDM).

Type 3 Diabetes

Many people don’t realize that diabetes is not just a condition of high sugars, it is also a condition of high inflammation throughout the body.  This is why it is associated with a much higher risk of heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s disease.  In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is now considered type 3 diabetes.  Researchers are finding more evidence pointing to the fact that insulin resistance and insulin-like growth factor is a key part of Alzheimer’s disease.  People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, estimated to be between 50% and 65% higher.


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