Different types of diabetes develop for different reasons. Here are the answers to some common questions about the three major types.

Q: What makes one type of diabetes different from another?
Type 1 diabetes develops when the body stops producing the hormone insulin. This type of diabetes usually develops in childhood, but can occur at any time. In type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin but is not able to use it. Another type of diabetes, known as gestational diabetes, occurs during later months of pregnancy in some women who did not previously have diabetes but develop high blood sugar levels between the 22nd and 26th week. Untreated gestational diabetes affects the health of both the mother and the baby.

Q: What is the role of insulin in the body?
Insulin moves blood sugar into your cells, where it is used to produce energy. "Think of insulin as the key required to unlock the door that lets sugar in," suggests Amber Taylor, MD, Director of Diabetes at Mercy Medical Center. "Without insulin, sugar would continue to circulate in your bloodstream and your body wouldn't be able to use it." When your body does not produce enough insulin, or is unable to use what it does produce, insulin injections do the job.

Q: Is diabetes inherited?
There are genetic links to both type 1 and type 2, though they are not well understood. While you do not inherit diabetes directly, you can inherit a predisposition to the disease. If one parent has either type of diabetes, children are at higher risk of developing the condition. The risk increases if both parents have diabetes.

Q: Must everyone with diabetes follow a special diet?
A balanced, healthy diet is an essential part of the treatment for any type of diabetes. Just about any type of food can be included in a diabetic diet; however, as long as meals and snacks are well-planned and comprise a variety of foods from different food groups, served in standard portion sizes. A dietitian, nurse, or diabetes educator can help you plan a diet that's best for you and incorporates the foods you like to eat.

Q: What types of medications are used to control diabetes?
Medications that help control diabetes are designed to manage your blood sugar levels and your body's use of insulin. The goal is prevent extreme highs and lows. If you have type 1, you must take insulin injections. Some people with early stage type 2 diabetes can control their condition to some degree with strict diet and exercise, but may also need to take one or more oral medications. When diet and oral medications are not enough to control diabetes, insulin injections are necessary. Women with gestational diabetes who cannot control the condition with diet and exercise must also take insulin injections. Insulin must be given by injection; it cannot be given orally because it is broken down during digestion before it can be absorbed into your bloodstream. Dosages may be adjusted and medications changed as time goes on.

Q: What can I do to prevent diabetes?
You may be able to prevent, or at least delay, type 2 diabetes, by getting regular exercise and eating properly to maintain a healthy weight. At some point before you develop diabetes, you may be diagnosed with "pre-diabetes," which means you have high blood sugar but not high enough for a full diagnosis. Early treatment, weight loss, and an exercise routine can help reduce blood sugar to normal levels and help prevent or delay pre-diabetes from turning into type 2 diabetes. Weight control can also help prevent gestational diabetes.

If you develop diabetes, the more tightly you control your blood sugar, the better your chances of having fewer complications as time goes on.

Amber L. Taylor, MD, reviewed this article.



The American Diabetes Association