If you have diabetes, it is important to know which type you have. Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases that all share the same symptoms which are high blood glucose levels. There are three main types of diabetes: type I, type II, and gestational diabetes. Each type has unique characteristics and requires different treatment plans. In this article, we will discuss the differences between these three types of diabetes and what you need to know in order to manage your disease effectively.
What is diabetes mellitus?
Diabetes mellitus, often just called diabetes, is a group of diseases that are characterized by high blood sugar levels with the three main types of diabetes being type I, type II, and gestational diabetes. Diabetes occurs when the body can’t produce enough insulin or when the body can’t use insulin properly. Your body needs insulin to turn the food you eat into energy and it does this by breaking down the food into glucose which is then transported into your cells. If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels will be too high because your body can’t use or make insulin properly.
What is prediabetes and what does it mean for me?
Prediabetes means that your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. If you have prediabetes, it means that you’re at risk for developing type II diabetes in the future. You can reduce your risk of developing type II diabetes by making some changes to your lifestyle, such as eating healthier and getting more exercise.
What is type I diabetes?
Type I diabetes is a condition that occurs when your body can’t produce any insulin. When someone has type I diabetes, they must take insulin injections or use an insulin pump to keep their blood sugar levels under control. It’s usually diagnosed in children and young adults and it requires lifelong treatment with insulin. There is also nothing you can do to prevent getting type I diabetes.
When you have type I diabetes your body can’t turn the glucose in your food into energy. This is because you don’t have any insulin which is what helps your body do this. Without insulin, the glucose builds up in your blood and can cause some serious health problems. The reason your body doesn’t have enough insulin with type I diabetes is that your pancreas has stopped producing it due to your body’s own immune system attacking it.
There are many different diabetes symptoms that are possible when you first recognize you may have type I diabetes and these include:
- Frequent urination
- Extreme thirst and hunger
- Blurry vision
- Wounds and bruises are slow to heal
- Weight loss despite eating more food
What is type II diabetes?
Type II diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and it is an autoimmune condition that occurs when your body can’t use insulin properly. This means that your blood sugar levels will be high but you won’t have any symptoms of type I diabetes. Many people with type II diabetes don’t even know they have it because there are often no symptoms. It’s usually diagnosed in adults and it can be treated with lifestyle changes, medication, or insulin therapy.
Type II diabetes is a condition where your body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin it does make isn’t working properly. When you have type II diabetes, your blood sugar levels will be high because your cells can’t use the glucose in your food for energy. Just like with type I diabetes, complications of type II diabetes can cause some serious health problems if it’s not treated.
Although there usually aren’t many symptoms, there are a couple that can occur with type II diabetes. The common symptoms for type II diabetes include:
- Frequently getting infections
- Pain, numbness, or tingling in your extremities
Certain people also carry a greater risk of developing type II diabetes including those with the following risk factors for type II diabetes:
- Over 45 years of age
- Someone in your immediate family has diabetes
- Have had gestational diabetes before
- Do not live an active lifestyle meaning you are not physically active at least 4 days a week
- Are African American, Hispanic, or Native American
What are the differences between type I and type II diabetes?
The main difference between type I and type II diabetes is that type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease where your body’s own immune system attacks the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. With type II diabetes, you still have some insulin production but it doesn’t work properly which means your blood sugar levels will be high.
Another main difference between type I and type II diabetes is that type I diabetes requires lifelong treatment with insulin while type II diabetes can sometimes be treated with lifestyle changes for a more healthy lifestyle or medication. Lastly, type I diabetes is more common in children and young adults while type II diabetes is more common in adults. Type II diabetes is also preventable and can be treated, whereas type I diabetes is a lifelong condition.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can occur during pregnancy. It’s caused by the hormones in the placenta. These hormones can increase insulin resistance in certain women which causes gestational diabetes.
Most women who have gestational diabetes will go back to normal blood sugar levels after they give birth but some will be at a greater risk to develop type II diabetes later on in life. Gestational diabetes is diagnosed with a blood sugar test which is done around the 24th week of pregnancy.
Although gestational diabetes doesn’t usually cause any typical symptoms, there are a few that you may experience. The most common symptoms of gestational diabetes include:
- Having to go to the bathroom more often than normal
- Feeling very thirsty all the time
- Losing weight despite eating more
- Feeling tired and weak all the time
- Blurred vision
- Yeast infections
Having gestational diabetes doesn’t mean that you will have a bigger baby or that your baby will be born with diabetes. However, it’s important to get treatment for gestational diabetes because it can increase your risk of having a C-section or a baby that is large for its gestational age, also called macrosomia. The child may also have difficulty breathing at birth and will be predisposed to obesity and type II diabetes later in life.
How is diabetes diagnosed?
Diabetes is diagnosed with a blood sugar test which is done when you have symptoms of high blood sugar or if your doctor thinks you may have diabetes. The blood sugar test measures the amount of glucose in your blood and can be done in a few different ways. The most common blood tests which can be used to diagnose diabetes are the A1C test, the fasting blood sugar test, and the oral glucose tolerance test.
This test measures your average blood sugar level over the past few months.
Fasting blood sugar test
The fasting blood sugar test is done in the morning after you haven’t had anything to eat or drink for at least eight hours.
Oral glucose tolerance test
The oral glucose tolerance test, or GTT, is a more detailed test that measures how well your body handles glucose. You will be asked to drink a sugary beverage and have blood glucose monitoring done two hours later with a test to see if it is at a normal blood glucose level.
What are the treatments for diabetes?
There are many different treatments for diabetes that your doctor may prescribe. The treatments may also vary depending on the type of diabetes you have too. Below are the common treatment options for each type of diabetes.
Type I diabetes
With type I diabetes, you have a chronic condition and will need to take insulin every day in order to control your blood sugar levels. You can take insulin shots from a syringe, insulin pen, or have a pump that automatically puts insulin in your body and your doctor will help you find the best one for you. You may also need to check your blood sugar levels several times a day and adjust your insulin doses as needed. A healthy, balanced diet and exercise will also help you manage to live with type I diabetes too.
Type II diabetes
Type II diabetes can often be treated with lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight. However, you may also need to take medication to help control your blood sugar levels. Insulin is not usually needed unless blood sugar levels are very high or you have another health condition that requires insulin treatment.
Most women with gestational diabetes will be able to control blood sugar levels with diet and exercise. However, some women may need to take insulin or other medications to keep blood glucose level under control. It’s important to get treatment for gestational diabetes because it can increase your risk of having a C-section or a baby that is large for its gestational age along with other possible complications.
There are several different types of diabetes that can be confusing to understand. However, by knowing the basics about each type, it can be easier to know which one you may have and how to best treat the symptoms of diabetes. No type of diabetes is better or worse than the other and the symptoms will vary from person to person while not necessarily having a common symptom. Diabetes is a condition that can require ongoing care and treatment in order to control the level of sugar in the blood and, with careful management, most people with diabetes can live long, healthy lives. If you have any more questions, please talk to your doctor or health care professional.
References and Sources:
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital
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Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Erik Rivera and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
Owner, entrepreneur, and consumer health enthusiast.