What Are the Types of Diabetes?

Medically Reviewed By Kelly Wood, MD
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Experts typically separate diabetes into three main types: type 1, type 2, and gestational. Researchers think that type 1 diabetes occurs when an autoimmune reaction disrupts insulin production. Lifestyle factors and genetics can cause type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant people and typically goes away after pregnancy. Diabetes is a condition in which the body’s glucose, or blood sugar, levels become too high. The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that regulates your blood sugar levels. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, or the body is unable to use the insulin properly.

Read on to learn more about the types of diabetes and their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Type 1 diabetes

A woman checking her blood sugar levels
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), type 1 diabetes makes up 5–10% of all diabetes cases. There is currently no known way to prevent it. Although the condition can occur at any age, it usually develops in childhood or young adulthood.

Causes of type 1 diabetes

As the CDC notes, experts think that type 1 diabetes results from an autoimmune reaction. This reaction affects the production of insulin in the pancreas. Cells in the pancreas called beta cells produce insulin. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system interferes with these cells, resulting in decreased insulin levels.

Without sufficient levels of insulin, the body cannot use glucose properly. Experts think that genetics or environmental factors may play a role in triggering this autoimmune reaction.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes may include:

Learn more about the symptoms of type 1 diabetes here.

Treatments for type 1 diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin daily and check their blood sugar levels regularly. Insulin can come in the form of a shot, pen, or pump. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) notes that other medications may help people if taking insulin is insufficient. However, more research into these medications is necessary.

Lifestyle changes can also help manage type 1 diabetes. Eating a healthy diet, getting sufficient rest, and exercising regularly can all be beneficial.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, accounting for 90–95% of all diabetes cases. According to the CDC, most cases develop in people aged 45 and up. The CDC also notes that doctors are now diagnosing more people below the age of 45.

Causes of type 2 diabetes

Several factors may cause type 2 diabetes:

  • genetics
  • insulin resistance, the body’s inability to use insulin efficiently
  • physical inactivity
  • excess body weight

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes may experience symptoms similar to those of type 1 diabetes. These symptoms can develop slowly, sometimes over several years.

Learn more about the symptoms of type 2 diabetes here.

Treatments for type 2 diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes may or may not need insulin or other medications to control their blood sugar levels. As with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes requires regular blood sugar checks.

According to the NIDDK, you can manage type 2 diabetes through lifestyle changes, including:

  • exercising regularly
  • quitting smoking
  • eating a healthy diet
  • taking your medications as prescribed

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. The CDC estimates that 2–10% of pregnant people in the United States develop the condition each year. Gestational diabetes may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes after pregnancy.

Causes of gestational diabetes

According to researchers, two factors may play a role in the development of gestational diabetes. First, beta cells are unable to produce enough insulin or respond to the body’s blood sugar levels. Second, hormonal changes during pregnancy can contribute to insulin resistance.

During late pregnancy, all people experience some degree of insulin resistance. Some people may have insulin resistance before pregnancy as well. They will have an increased need for insulin.

Symptoms of gestational diabetes

People with gestational diabetes may not experience symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can be similar to those of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 

Learn more about the symptoms of gestational diabetes here.

Treatments for gestational diabetes

Treatment for gestational diabetes typically begins with nonmedical interventions. These may include blood sugar monitoring, dietary changes, and exercise. If these measures are not enough, doctors may recommend insulin or other medications.

Frequently asked questions

These are a few questions people ask about the types of diabetes. Dr. Kelly Wood has reviewed the answers.

Is type 1 or type 2 diabetes worse?

While type 2 diabetes is typically milder than type 1, all types of diabetes can cause serious complications if they are not managed. Complications may include nerve damage, chronic kidney disease, and heart disease.

Can you cure type 2 diabetes?

While there is currently no known way to cure type 2 diabetes, the condition is manageable. Your doctor may recommend a healthy diet and exercise in addition to any necessary medications.

How is prediabetes different from diabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition where your blood sugar levels are elevated but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. People with prediabetes can help lower their risk of developing diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise.

Summary

The three main types of diabetes are type 1, type 2, and gestational. Experts believe that type 1 diabetes results from an autoimmune reaction that interferes with your body’s insulin production. Lifestyle factors and genetics can cause type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy as a result of impaired insulin production or hormonal changes.

While symptoms may not always occur, they can include blurred vision, weight loss, and increased hunger or thirst. Type 1 diabetes requires daily insulin treatment to manage blood sugar levels. Type 2 and gestational diabetes may or may not require insulin or other medications. Some people may be able to manage their condition with exercise, a healthy diet, and glucose monitoring.

Talk with your doctor if you have a family history of diabetes or if you are experiencing symptoms. They can determine which type of diabetes you have and help you decide on the proper treatment plan.

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Medical Reviewer: Kelly Wood, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 22
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