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Is Diabetes an Autoimmune Disease?

Diabetes is not one disease, but rather is a group of diseases that share some common characteristics. It is caused…(continue reading)

Diabetes is not one disease, but rather is a group of diseases that share some common characteristics. It is caused by problems with the body’s ability to produce or use insulin which is a hormone that helps the body convert sugar into energy. There are three major types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. In this article, we will explore whether or not type 1 and type 2 diabetes are autoimmune diseases. Continue reading to find out the answers and if there are different treatment options for each.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a chronic disease that affects the way your body uses glucose, a type of blood sugar, that is the main source of energy for the cells in your body. It is important to have enough glucose in your blood because it is used by your brain and other organs for energy. Diabetes occurs when there is too much sugar in your blood which can lead to serious health problems if left untreated.

What are the different types of diabetes?

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Let’s take a look at each one below.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which your body does not produce insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert glucose into energy. This happens due to your autoimmune system attacking the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes because it is usually diagnosed as a child or young adult although you can develop it at any age.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type and is a chronic condition in which your body does not produce enough insulin or is unable to use it effectively. Your body can develop insulin resistance which means the cells stop responding to insulin and your cells can’t take in glucose for energy. Insulin resistance can lead to a buildup of sugar in your blood which can damage your organs and cause serious health problems if left untreated. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be preventable as it is often caused by lifestyle choices such as lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, or obesity and is usually diagnosed in adults, although it can develop at any age.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only pregnant women get and it is caused by the hormones produced during pregnancy that make it difficult for the body to use insulin effectively. This form of diabetes usually goes away after giving birth. However, you may be more prone to type 2 diabetes afterward because of it.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

The symptoms of diabetes can vary depending on the type you have. However, some common symptoms include feeling very hungry or thirsty, frequent urination, feeling tired all the time, weight loss even if you are eating more than usual, wounds taking longer to heal, frequent infections, and blurred vision.

What is an autoimmune disease?

An autoimmune disease or autoimmune disorder is a condition in which your immune system cells, which are responsible for fighting infection and diseases, mistakenly produce an immune response that attacks healthy cells in your body. An immune response can cause inflammation and damage to tissues and organs. There are many different types of autoimmune diseases, some more common than others. Besides type 1 diabetes, other examples of autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), and psoriasis.

Why is type 1 diabetes an autoimmune disease?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease because there is an autoimmune reaction that attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This means that the body is unable to produce insulin which is needed to convert glucose into energy. Your blood glucose levels will then go up which can cause health problems such as kidney disease, eye damage, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

Is type 2 diabetes an autoimmune disease?

There is some debate over whether or not type 2 diabetes is an autoimmune disease as it has previously been known as a metabolic disorder due to your body becoming insulin resistant or not making enough insulin. While it is not as clear cut as type 1 diabetes, there are some similarities between the two conditions. For example, insulin resistance may be caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissue although more research is needed. However, one key difference is that the onset of type 2 diabetes is often caused by risk factors due to lifestyle choices such as being overweight or obese, whereas type 1 diabetes is not. There is some research over the last 15 years that suggests the two diseases may be closer linked than previously recognized. 

What is latent autoimmune diabetes in adults?

Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) is a slowly progressing form of type 1 diabetes that is often misdiagnosed as type 2 and, for these reasons, it is sometimes called diabetes type 1.5. Like type 1 diabetes, latent autoimmune diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. However, if you have latent autoimmune disease you often have more symptoms of type 2 diabetes when first diagnosed such as being overweight or obese. Your pancreas may still produce some insulin and you may not need insulin treatments for several months to years after diagnosis. These symptoms have led some researchers to think of latent autoimmune disease as a subset of type 1 diabetes while others believe diabetes may occur on a continuum, hence the labeling of it as type 1.5 diabetes, although the topic is still debated.

What is the difference in treatment options for type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

The main difference between treatment options for type 1 and type 2 diabetes is that people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin injections or use an insulin pump as they cannot produce their own, while those with type 2 diabetes may only need to make changes to their diet and exercise habits. However, both conditions require regular blood sugar monitoring and lifestyle adjustments in order to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Additionally, people with either type of diabetes are at risk for developing complications if their blood sugar is not well controlled.

Summary

Diabetes is a group of diseases that affect how the body uses glucose, or sugar, for energy. There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which your body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease in which your body either becomes insulin resistant or does not make enough of it. There is some research suggesting that type 2 diabetes may be an autoimmune disease as well, but more research is necessary. Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) is a slowly progressing form of type 1 diabetes that is often misdiagnosed as type 2 and its placement within the group of diabetic diseases is still debated. The main difference between treatment options for type 1 and type 2 diabetes is that if you have type 2 diabetes, you can make lifestyle choices by changing your diet if you are overweight or obese and reducing sugar and excess carbohydrates. Type 1 diabetes management requires insulin treatment while type 2 diabetes you may not need insulin, although in some cases you may still receive it. If you have any more questions, please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.

References and Sources:

Nature

NIH

Mayo Clinic 

Fact Checked and Editorial Process

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. 

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