Types of Diabetes

There are different types of diabetes, each with a different underlying cause. All types are linked to long-term health complications that result from elevated levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood, a condition known as hyperglycemia.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces little to no insulin, the hormone that helps glucose move from the blood into cells where it can be used in energy metabolism. Without insulin, individuals with type 1 diabetes may develop very high blood glucose levels. As such, insulin must be delivered to the body by injection (or an insulin pump) to control blood glucose. Otherwise, complications may develop. Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in children, but it can develop at any age. Its underlying causes are genetic and environmental, not lifestyle-related reasons. However, lifestyle (diet and physical activity) is important for blood glucose management.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when cells in the body develop insulin resistance and do not properly respond to the insulin. In initial stages of type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is able to increase insulin production to compensate. Eventually, the pancreas cannot make enough insulin to move glucose from the blood into cells, and hyperglycemia results. Ultimately, many individuals with type 2 diabetes need insulin injections. Although one’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes is partially determined by genetic factors, it is more related to lifestyle factors. In particular, a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle can lead to overweight and obesity, which dramatically increase the risk for type 2 diabetes. Additionally, genetic factors may predispose certain groups of people to both weight gain and type 2 diabetes. There are various treatments for type 2 diabetes, including lifestyle management through diet and exercise, medications, and insulin injections. These treatments are often used together.

Pre-diabetes is defined as higher than normal blood glucose levels that are still below the threshold for diagnosis as type 2 diabetes. Without intervention, individuals with prediabetes are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. If you have pre-diabetes, you can reduce your risk for developing diabetes by making lifestyle changes that will help you lose weight—choosing a healthy diet and getting regular physical activity. Even a small amount of weight loss (5-7% of body weight) can help. It is a good idea for everyone over the age of 45 to have routine blood glucose tests during a yearly checkup!

Gestational diabetes may occur among pregnant women who have hormonal changes that cause hyperglycemia. Often this will resolve once the baby is born. The risk for gestational diabetes is higher for women who are over age 25, were overweight before becoming pregnant, have a family history of the disease, give birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, and/or have high blood pressure. Women with unmanaged gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Although the cause of hyperglycemia differs among the different types of diabetes, management of all types includes lifestyle (diet and physical activity) and medical treatment.

For more information, check out Diabetes: Nutrition and Health: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/diabetes-nutrition-and-health-9-334/. You can also visit https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention to learn more about the prevention and management of diabetes. Or, click https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/risktest to take a one-minute prediabetes ri