Types of Diabetes

There are two major types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. The type of diabetes a child has depends on whether his body does not make insulin (type 1) or cannot use his own insulin very well (type 2).

Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. It is the most common type of diabetes found in children and young adults. When a child has type 1 diabetes, his pancreas can no longer make the hormone called insulin.

Type 1 diabetes a disease of the immune system. The immune system normally fights infections; however, this system gets confused in a child with type 1 diabetes.

  • The body’s immune cells attack and kill the pancreas cells that make insulin, rather than recognizing them as a normal part of the body.
  • Nobody knows why the immune cells get confused.
  • Research has shown the destruction of pancreas cells begins months and even years before blood glucose levels become higher than normal.

Special research tests are available at Children’s to check whether the immune process that causes type 1 diabetes has started in children.

  • The test is usually done in healthy family members of people who have type 1 diabetes.  

About 1 in 7 people with type 1 diabetes will have a family member who also has type 1 diabetes. Children who have type 1 diabetes can stay healthy by taking insulin injections every day. They can become very sick and even die if they cannot get insulin.

Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is sometimes called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Most people think that type 2 diabetes only affects overweight adults, but it is now occurring frequently in children too. Most children with type 2 diabetes have a family member with type 2 diabetes.

Unlike type 1 diabetes, the immune system has nothing to do with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when two things happen at the same time

  1. A child loses some of his ability to make insulin.
  2. The cells that need insulin to burn fuel cannot react to insulin as much as they normally would.

The poor response to insulin is called insulin resistance. The most common cause of insulin resistance is being overweight. This is why most children with type 2 diabetes are overweight and why some of them can manage their blood sugars just by losing weight.

Even though many children take medicines or insulin injections to treat their type 2 diabetes, the most important part of treatment is to eat healthy foods and to be active. Exercise is a good way to treat insulin resistance, even if the exercise does not cause weight loss. Visit Strong4Life to learn more about eating healthy and staying active.

Learn more about Type 2 from the educational video posted below.

Other types of diabetes:

Gestational Diabetes
This happens when blood glucose levels are high during pregnancy only. The mother’s high blood glucose levels can cause complications in the baby. Most often, the baby will be bigger than usual—birth weights can be more than 10 pounds. Mothers who have gestational diabetes are at a high risk for getting type 1 or type 2 diabetes later in their life. Children who are born after a pregnancy complicated by gestational diabetes are at higher risk for being overweight and getting diabetes when they are adults.

Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that is best known for causing lung disease, but it also causes pancreas problems over many years that may scar of the pancreas. If enough pancreas cells that produce insulin are killed, diabetes can develop. Even though cystic fibrosis-related diabetes does not always cause symptoms, it usually needs to be treated with insulin injections.

Diabetes caused by medicine
Some medicines will temporarily raise blood glucose levels. The group of medicines that most frequently raises the levels to the diabetes range is steroids that are used to treat inflammation, like hydrocortisone or prednisone. People with diabetes will almost always need to change their diabetes treatment when they take steroid medications.

Diabetes Insipidus
This condition causes some symptoms of other forms of diabetes, but blood glucose levels are normal this condition is not related to the pancreas. Diabetes insipidus occurs when a hormone that controls urine production cannot be made or cannot work in the kidneys. The hormone is called anti-diuretic hormone and it is made in the pituitary gland.