The incidence of diabetes is on the rise in the United States and worldwide. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 50% increase in the prevalence of diabetes from 1997 to 2004. While the rise in cases of Type 2 diabetes is perhaps most striking, it appears that the incidence of Type 1 diabetes is increasing as well.
But Types 1 and 2 aren’t the only types of diabetes out there: There’s also gestational diabetes, maturity-onset diabetes of the young, and the so-called Type 1.5 diabetes, not to mention prediabetes, which raises a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. All types of diabetes are characterized by high blood glucose levels, and all can lead to complications, but the causes of different types of diabetes may be different, and the treatments can be different, too. Here is a run-down of the characteristics of various types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes is also characterized by the presence of certain autoantibodies against insulin or other components of the insulin-producing system such as glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), tyrosine phosphatase, and/or islet cells.
When the body does not have enough insulin to use the glucose that is in the bloodstream for fuel, it begins breaking down fat reserves for energy. However, the breakdown of fat creates acidic by-products called ketones, which accumulate in the blood. If enough ketones accumulate in the blood, they can cause a potentially life-threatening chemical imbalance known as ketoacidosis.
Type 1 diabetes often develops in children, although it can occur at any age. Symptoms include unusual thirst, a need to urinate frequently, unexplained weight loss, blurry vision, and a feeling of being tired constantly. Such symptoms tend to be acute.
Diabetes is diagnosed in one of three ways — a fasting plasma glucose test, an oral glucose tolerance test, or a random plasma glucose test — all of which involve drawing blood to measure the amount of glucose in it.
Type 2 diabetes
In Type 2 diabetes, there are two main underlying reasons for high blood glucose: insulin resistance, a condition in which the body does not use insulin efficiently, and insufficient insulin secretion by the pancreas. People with Type 2 diabetes usually do not show signs of autoimmune disease.