Dec 6, 2017, 9:18:07 AM CST Dec 14, 2023, 1:35:21 PM CST

The difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Research is changing how doctors diagnose diabetes in children

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In the past, many people believed that there were only two types of diabetes: one that affected kids (type 1) and one that affected adults (type 2). As medical research progresses, doctors have discovered that children can have type 2 and other types of diabetes, too.

Abha Choudhary, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist at Children’s Health℠, says research is helping physicians better classify the types of diabetes and plan for the right treatment.

“The treatment varies for different kinds of diabetes,” Dr. Choudhary says. “For example, for maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY), some patients can be treated with oral medications and don’t need insulin. Genetic testing can help us diagnose MODY and plan treatment options more accurately.”

By understanding diabetes and what type of diabetes your child has, you can ensure he or she gets the right treatment based on the latest research.

What is diabetes?

To understand the different types of diabetes, you should know how a typical body works. When you eat, your body turns many carbohydrates into glucose (sugar) that enters your bloodstream, raising your blood sugar level.

When your blood sugar level is high, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps your body’s cells absorb the blood sugar and turn it into energy to keep your body working.

People with diabetes either have no insulin (type 1 diabetes) or their insulin doesn’t work well (type 2 diabetes). Their blood sugar levels stay high, which can damage parts of the body and affect how well cells work.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the most common forms of the condition, but have different causes and treatments.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas. Because these cells are damaged, people with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin. They need to take insulin as a shot or through an insulin pump to keep their blood sugar in the healthy range.

In people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does produce insulin, but they either have too little insulin or the insulin doesn’t work well. They still have high blood sugar levels that need to be controlled with pills like Metformin, insulin and a healthy lifestyle that includes a nutritious diet, regular exercise and, often, weight loss.

Both types of diabetes may show similar symptoms, such as:

“It’s important not to miss signs of diabetes,” says Dr. Choudhary. “If your child has increased thirst, increased urination and is losing weight, I would suggest talking to his or her pediatrician to rule out diabetes.”

Children and adults can have either type of diabetes, but children are more likely to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Dr. Choudhary says that though type 2 diabetes used to be considered an adult disease, doctors are seeing more and more type 2 diabetes cases in young children and adolescents due to a rise in obesity. Doctors diagnose type 2 diabetes in about 5,300 children each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Though there is no cure for either type of diabetes, treatment – as well as lifestyle modifications for children with type 2 diabetes – can help control children’s blood sugar and improve their health.

What are the other types of diabetes?

As more research is conducted into diabetes, doctors are discovering new types of diabetes that require different treatments other than type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Other types of diabetes include:

  • Type 1.5 diabetes or latent autoimmune diabetes, a slower version of type 1 diabetes that may or may not require insulin therapy at first
  • Drug- or chemically-induced diabetes that can occur in children who receive high doses of steroids or chemotherapy  
  • Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes in children who have cystic fibrosis
  • Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY), a rare type of hereditary diabetes
  • Neonatal diabetes in newborns who have genetic mutations that cause diabetes

Some of these types of diabetes require oral medications while others require insulin therapy. Your doctor works to diagnose your child’s exact type of diabetes through blood tests and genetic testing to ensure he or she receives the right treatment.

Learn more

Learn how the diabetes and endocrinology experts at Children’s Health help diagnose and treat diabetes in children of all ages.

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