What Kind of Diabetes Do I Have?

There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes (GDM).  More than 9 million Canadians live with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Approximately 10% of people with diabetes have type 1and 90% have type 2.

All types of diabetes involve insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas.  Insulin works like a “key” to “unlock” cells which take in glucose (sugar) from the blood, to be used for energy.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is more commonly diagnosed in children, but can also be diagnosed later in life – when that occurs it is called LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults).

With type 1 diabetes the body is unable to make insulin, because the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin have been destroyed.  The cause of type 1 diabetes is currently unknown, and there is no known prevention for this disease. Insulin injections, multiple times per day (given via insulin pen, syringe or through an insulin pump), are required to help maintain normal blood sugar levels.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age; however, it is more commonly diagnosed in adults.

With type 2 diabetes, the body is either not making enough insulin, or it is not able to use the insulin that it is making effectively (called insulin resistance), or both.  If you remember that insulin works like a ‘key’, think of insulin resistance as ‘rust’ on the lock – it doesn’t let the insulin bring sugar into our cells as well as it did before the rust was there.

There is no single cause for developing type 2 diabetes but there are factors that put people at greater risk. Risk factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being over the age of 40 years old
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Ethnicity (Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders)
  • Gestational diabetes or delivering a baby >9lbs

Type 2 diabetes can be managed with a healthy diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, oral or injectable medications or insulin injections.

Gestational Diabetes (GDM)

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. The body becomes temporarily unable to produce enough insulin to meet the needs of both mother and child. GDM affects approximately 2-4% of all pregnancies (in the non-Aboriginal population).  All pregnant women are screened for GDM between their 24th and 28th week of pregnancy, earlier if they are high risk.

Risk factors for developing GDM include:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Previous history of GDM or delivering a baby >9lbs
  • If you have been diagnosed as “pre-diabetes” before pregnancy
  • Ethnicity(Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders)

Diabetes medications cannot be taken because of the potential harm to the growing baby, so a healthy diet, regular exercise and often insulin injections are the best way to manage gestational diabetes.

Pre-diabetes

Pre-diabetes occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal levels, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.  Pre-diabetes is a warning sign that you are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.  Pre-diabetes can be managed with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.

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