Health Matters Blog

Two Types of Diabetes, Two Very Different Diseases

by Houghton Smith

Last week I wrote an article about the increasing number of cases of Type 2 diabetes. But it should be noted that the incidence of Type 1 diabetes is also on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Type 1 diabetes has increased 23 percent over the past 10 years.

Type 1 diabetes was originally referred to as juvenile diabetes because we only saw it in children, or young adults. Now we might see it in someone who is 60 years old. Type 2 diabetes was originally called adult onset diabetes because it affected older people, but now the disease is seen in young people.

Houghton Smith

Even though both diseases are brought on by imbalances in our blood sugar, Type 1 and Type 2 have very specific differences that are important for people to be aware of if they are concerned about themselves or a loved one possibly having diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease, meaning that a person’s own immune system is attacking a part of the body. In this instance it is attacking the insulin beta cells in the pancreas. While it’s possible that poor diet and lack of exercise might play a part in causing Type 2 that is not true for Type 1. Some people get it while others do not, and what causes it is still unknown. A person with Type 1 diabetes requires insulin as soon as the disease is detected for proper treatment.

Most Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in a doctor’s office, Emergency Room or other acute care setting. Initially, a person will experience dramatic thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, nausea and abdominal pain. We use two lab tests to diagnose Type 1 diabetes. The C-Peptide test measures available insulin in your body and the GAD Antibody test is a positive/negative test for Type 1. Together these tests help diagnose Type 1 diabetes for the clinician.

Throughout its history, Type 1 diabetes has been a serious disease, causing blindness, kidney failure, amputation of limbs and other complications. We know the history of Type 1 is long; cases of it are referenced in Egyptian hieroglyphics that date back to 3,000 B.C. In 1922, scientists discovered a method for extracting insulin from a dog’s pancreas, and this was the first time insulin was available to treat Type 1 diabetes.

Since that time, treatment of Type 1 diabetes has evolved. While there is still no cure, a person who is properly managing their condition can expect to live a normal life span. Modern insulins work well and there are many delivery methods. Self-monitoring of blood sugar is easy and accurate, though it still requires a patient to obtain a blood sample. Ongoing monitoring of the disease must be done, in addition to counseling on the management of the disease.

If anyone is interested in learning more, contact the BMH Diabetes Clinic.

Houghton Smith, RN, CDE, is the coordinator of the Diabetes Education & Counseling program at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. He can be reached at 802-251-8429.

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