An estimated 380 million people suffer from diabetes world-wide, and that number is only on the rise. Estimates from the World Health Organization say that by 2030, the number of diabetes patients will double. Diabetes is a serious health condition that is the leading cause of kidney failure, heart failure, stroke, amputations, and blindness. This condition affects the hormone insulin, which is responsible for helping glucose—or sugar—enter your body’s cells so you can use it for energy.
The two most common types of diabetes are referred to as type 1 and type 2. Type 1, also called juvenile diabetes, usually occurs early in life and affects your body’s ability to produce insulin. These patients need to take insulin injections as part of their treatment. Type 2 is more common and occurs when your body becomes insulin resistant. Risk for type 2 diabetes increases in overweight individuals and is often treated through diet and exercise.
For anyone with diabetes or who has a family member or friend with diabetes, this may seem like basic information. But here are five other facts about diabetes you might not know.
1. Type 1 Diabetes is an Autoimmune Disease
We don’t often associate diabetes with the immune system, but that’s exactly where type 1 diabetes starts. An autoimmune disease is a condition where a person’s immune system begins attacking their own body. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This results in little to no insulin production in the body, which is why patients with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections to survive.
2. People With Type 2 Diabetes May Not Have Symptoms
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 25 percent of people with diabetes don’t know they have it. One of the contributing factors to this high number is the fact that type 2 diabetes can occur without symptoms. Patients often go years with the condition without ever knowing it. When type 2 diabetes symptoms do arise, they often include:
- Increased hunger and thirst
- Increased urination
- Weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Frequent infections
- Slow-healing sores
- Patches of dark skin
3. Patients Can Have More Than One Type of Diabetes
Although most patients only suffer from one type of diabetes, some people can develop multiple types. This is referred to as “double diabetes.” This happens when someone with type 1 diabetes develops a resistance to insulin, which is the main feature of type 2 diabetes. This usually happens as a result of obesity. Like anyone with type 2 diabetes, patients with double diabetes can overcome their insulin resistance through proper diet and exercise, although their inability to produce insulin will remain.
4. There are More than Two Types of Diabetes
While type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the most common, there are numerous other types of diabetes that rarely get talked about. Gestational diabetes, for example, occurs in pregnant women with high blood glucose levels. Another type, called type 3, refers to insulin resistance in the brain that increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. “Type 1.5” is a lot like type 1 diabetes as it is caused by an autoimmune disease, but the symptoms are more closely related to type 2 diabetes. Other types include drug-induced diabetes, neonatal diabetes, secondary diabetes, and many more.
5. Diabetes Isn’t Caused by Eating Too Much Sugar
It’s a common misconception that type 2 diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar. Although a high-sugar diet can increase risk, it does not cause diabetes on its own. Other factors play a role as well, including genetics, ethnicity, age, and sedentary lifestyle.
Diabetes can be complicated, but with this information, you can go forward with a little better understanding of this common condition.