What Are the Different Types of Diabetes?

By Lewis, Sarah, PharmD

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a group of disorders that have one thing in common: high blood sugar. Your healthcare providers may use the term hyperglycemia for high blood sugar. Common symptoms of high blood sugar are excessive thirst and excessive urination. With time, changes in your body that result from chronic high blood sugar can lead to serious health problems including:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes affects 25.8 million people in the United States (Source: CDC). It’s classified into different types based on how the disease develops:

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Gestational diabetes

  • Other specific types of diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes used to be called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. In type 1 diabetes, the cells in your pancreas that make insulin are destroyed. Insulin is the hormone your body uses to turn the sugar in your blood into energy. When your body doesn’t make insulin, it can’t use the sugar in your blood. Because your body can’t make any insulin in type 1 diabetes, you must use insulin injections to treat it.

Health experts aren’t exactly sure what causes type 1 diabetes; however, they do know that there is no way to prevent it.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin-dependent diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, your pancreas can still make insulin but not enough to use the sugar in your blood effectively. Your body’s cells can also become resistant to insulin. You can use oral medicines or insulin injections to treat type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. It can be prevented or reversed in many cases. Like type 1 diabetes, health experts aren’t exactly sure what causes it. Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity and it tends to run in families.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops during pregnancy. If you’re a woman with gestational diabetes, your pancreas can still make insulin but pregnancy hormones make your body resistant to it. The result is that your body can’t effectively use the sugar in your blood for energy. Your doctor may recommend diet, exercise, and insulin injections to treat gestational diabetes.

The CDC reports that 2% to 10% of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes (Source: CDC). Health experts don’t know the exact cause of gestational diabetes. They do know that it increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes after your pregnancy.

Are There Other Specific Types of Diabetes?

Sometimes other diseases or conditions you have can cause diabetes. These include:

  • Diseases of the pancreas, such as cystic fibrosis, pancreatitis, and cancer

  • Endocrine conditions, such as Cushing’s disease (high levels of cortisol) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)

  • Genetic syndromes, such as Down syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, and Turner syndrome

  • Infections, such as congenital rubella (an infection present at birth) and cytomegalovirus

  • Medicines, such as corticosteroids, certain asthma drugs, thiazide diuretics, thyroid hormone, pentamadine (Pentam 300), phenytoin (Dilantin), niacin (Niaspan, Nicobid, Niacor, Slo-Niacin), and alpha-interferon (Intron A, Infergen, Alferon N)

There’s also a disease called diabetes insipidus. While it shares the name diabetes, it doesn’t involve high blood sugar. Instead, it’s a problem with another hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH). ADH helps your kidneys regulate the amount of water in your urine. In diabetes insipidus, your body either doesn’t have enough ADH or your kidneys don’t respond to it. The disorder was named after diabetes because it causes excessive thirst and urination, which are also symptoms of diabetes.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Dec. 15, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2013 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Your Guide to Diabetes