What are the different types of diabetes?
There are three major types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM)
- Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM)
- Gestational diabetes
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. Between 5% and 10% percent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease—a disease in which the body's natural defense system turns against itself. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system kills the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Since the body cannot make enough insulin, cells can't take up sugar in the blood. People with type 1 diabetes need daily injections of insulin for their entire life, and must follow a strict diet and monitor their blood sugar levels every day.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. This form of diabetes usually develops in adults older than 40 years of age, most commonly those aged 55 and older. About 80% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.
In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas usually produces enough insulin, but the body cannot use the insulin effectively—a condition called insulin resistance. Because insulin resistance runs in families, we know that genes are partially responsible, but other factors such as obesity and lack of exercise also contribute to the development of insulin resistance. Over time, the pancreas produces less and less insulin. The result is the same as type 1 diabetes—an unhealthy buildup of sugar in the blood.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that develops during pregnancy in women who have never had diabetes before. It occurs in 2% to 9% of pregnancies and usually disappears once the baby is born.7, 8 Gestational diabetes can be harmful to the baby, but it does not carry the same risks (for example, early death, heart disease, stroke) to the mother as type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, women who have gestational diabetes are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.9
What is pre-diabetes?
Pre-diabetes is a condition in which there is more sugar in the blood than normal, but not enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. People who have pre-diabetes are more likely to develop diabetes in the future. In addition, people with pre-diabetes are 1.5 times more likely than people with normal blood sugar to develop cardiovascular disease (including stroke).10
Small elevations in blood sugar may be more dangerous for women than for men in terms of damage to the blood vessels. Research has found that women (but not men) develop markers of blood vessel abnormalities an average of 6 years before developing pre-diabetes. Women with pre-diabetes also have higher levels of a marker of early-stage blood vessel problems that can lead to heart disease and stroke.11
If you have pre-diabetes, you can prevent it from progressing to type 2 diabetes by taking the proper steps to manage your blood sugar level.
How common is diabetes?
About 8 million American women have physician-diagnosed diabetes; about 2 million American women have undiagnosed diabetes.12 A staggering 24 million women have pre-diabetes.
Diabetes is nearly twice as common in African Americans and Mexican Americans as in whites. In whites, women are slightly less likely to have diabetes than men, but African-American women are more likely to have diabetes than African-American men.13 In women older than 18 years, 13% of African Americans and about 11% of Mexican Americans have physician-diagnosed diabetes, compared with about 6% of white women.12
Interestingly, non-diabetic women typically have a better cardiovascular risk profile than non-diabetic men, and they are less likely to develop and die from cardiovascular disease at any age. One hypothesis to explain this "female advantage" is that women (especially younger women) are less likely to be insulin resistant (have problems using the body's natural insulin).11