Understanding different types of diabetes and managing risk factors
November is Diabetes Awareness Month
More than 5.7 million Canadians are living with diagnosed type 1 or 2 diabetes, according to Diabetes Canada.
Dr. Steve Johnson, associate professor and program director in the Faculty of Health Disciplines, is a diabetes researcher at Athabasca University (AU), and member of a diabetes research team at the University of Alberta.
His research about diabetes relates to healthy eating and active living, the 2 primary approaches to prevent and manage the disease.
What are the different types of diabetes?
There are 3 different types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes mellitus.
About 10% of people who have diabetes have Type 1. Individuals with Type 1 are insulin dependent, which means the body doesn’t produce insulin. Having a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes slightly increases your risk of having it, but more genetic factors are involved due to the hereditary and environmental nature.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in youth and for this reason used to be called “youth on-set diabetes.”
Type 2 diabetes is the most common, affecting about 90% of people who have diabetes. It usually occurs after the age of 40. There is some genetic component, however, it is far less common with Type 2. It is more a lifestyle-related disease.
Being overweight and obese are very strong risk factors that impact your likelihood of getting type 2 diabetes. It’s not necessarily just from eating sugar like most people think; over time your body doesn’t manage blood sugar very well.
What is the biggest difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
The biggest difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is the requirement for insulin in Type 1. People with Type 1 will die very quickly if they don’t have insulin. New technologies such as automated glucose monitors and insulin pumps automatically administer and check blood-sugar levels, which significantly minimizes the risk.
Type 1 diabetes has a stronger genetic component, and generally appears in the person’s youth.
Gestational diabetes mellitus
Gestational diabetes mellitus occurs in the second or third trimester of pregnancy. Anywhere between 5 to 20% of pregnancies will develop gestational diabetes, however, that depends on a women’s risk profile.
The majority of women who develop it did not have diabetes prior to the pregnancy, and once the baby is born, the diabetes goes away.
As women age, their risk of developing gestational diabetes increases. The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes becomes greater for women after a gestational diabetes pregnancy.
Can diabetes be prevented?
You can prevent Type 2 and gestational diabetes through healthy lifestyles, specifically by:
- being active
- eating healthy
- not smoking
- lowering alcohol intake
What treatment options are available?
There are 2 approaches to treatment and management. Once you have a diagnosis, managing your disease can be done either through lifestyle changes, or with medication and insulin. As the disease progresses and isn’t managed through lifestyle changes, the more medications you will have to take, and then eventually insulin.
Diabetes management and mitigation is a 3-stage process: prevention, management, and complications.
If diabetes goes untreated, over time your body will not manage your blood sugar and the insulin that your body produces won’t work very well. This has the potential to create complications related to diabetes, and not necessarily diabetes itself.
Usually people develop heart disease, but there are other complications such as neuropathy, which affects the nerves in your extremities and can result in amputations. People also have the risk of losing their eyesight if their diabetes isn’t managed very well.
To avoid the risk of diabetes complications, ensure you integrate healthy eating and active living into your life. Learn more about diabetes, risks and warning signs.