Diabetes: The 4 Common Types and Their Causes

Diabetes is a condition that affects your body’s ability to produce or use insulin, which results in elevated levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood or urine. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to damaged organs, heart disease, foot problems and nerve damage. Although, type 1 and type 2 are the most common forms of diabetes, there are other types, as well, including gestational diabetes and prediabetes.

All types of diabetes are characterized by high blood glucose levels; however, the causes and treatment may be different. The following explores varying types of diabetes and their characteristics.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic, autoimmune disease, usually diagnosed in adolescence – and accounts for only 5% of people living with diabetes.  The condition occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, this leaves the pancreas with little or no ability to produce insulin.

Insulin is a hormone needed to regulate blood sugar, without insulin, sugar remains in the blood and can lead to serious complications; such as, diabetic ketoacidosis.

There is no known cure for type 1 diabetes, but there are long term care management options and treatment plans to help people manage their condition and stay healthy.

Although everyone’s plan is different based on their needs, a general diabetes treatment plan would be:

  • take insulin every day
  • eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • blood sugar level check (several times a day)
  • regular physical activity

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of type diabetes, affecting more than 29 million Americans. Unlike, type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin, but the body has difficulties using it properly due to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which cells don’t respond properly to insulin, in result, glucose can’t enter the cells, which means it is more likely to build up in the blood, thus leading to high blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by many factors; however, researchers believe it tends to be primarily linked to genetics – meaning that it tends to run in families.

But there many other risk factors, that will increase your chances of developing diabetes, which include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Prediabetes
  • High-fat and carbohydrate diet
  • High alcohol intake
  • Sedentary lifestyle (prolonged periods of sitting)
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Race/ethnicity: Certain ethnic groups are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, including African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.
  • Age: The older you are, the more at risk you are for developing type 2 diabetes. At age 45, the risk starts to rise, and after age 65, the risk increases even more.


Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs only during pregnancy, and forms when a woman’s body is not able to able make and utilize all the insulin it needs during pregnancy. About seven percent of women develop gestational diabetes, and women who are overweight, have a family history of diabetes and/or have high blood pressure are more likely to develop the condition.

Most of the time gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy; and it can be controlled and treated during pregnancy to protect both mom and baby.

But if not treated, it can cause problems during pregnancy, including:

  • Preeclampsia.
  • Premature birth
  • Stillbirth

Having gestational diabetes makes you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. However, breastfeeding, maintaining a healthy weight and frequent diabetes testing can greatly reduce the risk.


Prediabetes is a state in which glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Without intervention, prediabetes is likely to become type 2 diabetes within several years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one out of every three or 84 million adults have prediabetes; of this, over fifty percent are not aware that they have the condition. The risk factors for prediabetes are the same as those related to type 2 diabetes – doctors often test those who present one or more of these risks.  

Progression from prediabetes can be delayed or prevented by implementing healthy lifestyle changes such as:

  • Increasing physical activity/exercise
  • Losing weight
  • Eating more fiber-rich foods
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Practice portion control

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