How many kinds of diabetes are there? Lots. Explore type 1, type 2, LADA and more

Posted November 29th, 2017 by

Confused about the different types of diabetes? Never heard of other forms of diabetes beyond “1” and “2”? You’re not alone. As American Diabetes Month comes to a close, we’re shedding some light on this topic. Overall, more than 30 million Americans (9.4 percent of the U.S. population) have diabetes. Here’s a guide to help you and your loved ones learn more about the various kinds of diabetes. Join PatientsLikeMe today to connect with and learn from members living with 10+ different forms of diabetes.

Well-known (but still misunderstood) types of diabetes

People are most familiar with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, so let’s start with some stats, facts and myths about those:

  • Type 1 diabetes – About 5% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes (previously called insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults, but it can develop at any age (some members on PatientsLikeMe say they were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in their 60s). It’s caused by an autoimmune reaction (where the body attacks itself by mistake) that destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin (the hormone that lets blood sugar into the body’s cells for energy). Because of this autoimmune attack, the pancreas makes little to no insulin (so people need to inject insulin). Diet and lifestyle habits don’t cause type 1 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes can eat normal, healthy meals and have sweets (in moderation, like the general population) when they follow their treatment plan. Connect with 3,000+ members with type 1 diabetes on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Type 2 diabetes – At least 90% of Americans with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, the CDC says. It usually develops in people over age 45, but more and more children, teens and young adults are also getting diagnosed. In most people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes extra insulin because cells in the body have become “insulin resistant” — they don’t respond normally to allow blood sugar in as energy. Many people think that being overweight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes. While weight can play a role in the condition, other risk factors include family history, ethnicity and age. Most overweight people never develop diabetes, and many people who do develop type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only slightly overweight, according to the American Diabetes Association. Treatments for type 2 diabetes range from dietary changes and exercise to oral or injected medications. Connect with 19,000 members with type 2 diabetes on PatientsLikeMe.

Lesser-known types of diabetes

Research has uncovered many more types of diabetes than just types 1 and 2. In a 2013 study, the authors concluded that “the latest scientific findings no longer support such a rigid classification of diabetes…. Rather there appears to be a continuum of forms and a mixture of diabetes phenotypes.”

Other known forms of diabetes include:

  • Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) – Gestational diabetes affects pregnant women toward the middle or end of pregnancy, and usually goes away shortly after giving birth. But in some cases, diabetes doesn’t resolve after pregnancy, and it is then considered type 2 diabetes.
  • “Type 1.5” or LADA – Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA, nicknamed “Type 1.5”) is a type of diabetes is usually diagnosed after age 30, in which people show signs of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the CDC says. Some experts believe that LADA is a slowly developing kind of type 1 diabetes because patients have autoimmune antibodies in the pancreas. Many people with LADA are initially misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Most people with LADA still produce their own insulin when first diagnosed but require insulin injections months or years later.
  • MODY, NDM and other monogenic forms of diabetes – Some rare forms of diabetes result from mutations in a single gene and are called monogenic. Monogenic forms of diabetes account for about 1 to 5 percent of all cases of diabetes in young people, according the National Institutes of Health. In most cases, the gene mutation is inherited; in the remaining cases the gene mutation develops spontaneously. Maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) usually first occurs during adolescence or early adulthood, but it is often mistaken for type 1 diabetes or undiagnosed until later in life. Neonatal diabetes mellitus (NDM) is a monogenic form of diabetes that occurs in the first 6 months of life (earlier than type 1 diabetes occurs), and remains a lifelong condition for about half of those diagnosed.

Check out BeyondType1.org’s roundup of other rare kinds of diabetes.

Living with a rare or confusing kind of diabetes that doesn’t fit neatly into “type 1” or “type 2”? Connect with members of these smaller diabetes-related communities on PatientsLikeMe to learn from their experiences: LADAMODYdiabetes insipiduscystic fibrosis-related diabetesmedication-induced diabetes mellitussteroid-induced diabetes mellituspancreatogenous diabetes and prediabetes. If you have another kind of diabetes, please leave a comment.

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