What you need to know about the different types of diabetes

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Do you know the difference between type 1 and type 2? Here’s why it’s important to be aware

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What you should know about diabetes

Diabetes is a complex disease with multi-faceted causes and no known cure. It is defined by abnormal levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood, which can lead to serious complications such as heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and even amputations, typically of the foot or leg. Diabetes is a global issue, but the impact can be felt in communities throughout Canada. If you don’t have it, there is a very good chance someone in your family or circle of friends does.

Currently, more than nine million Canadians, or one in four, are living with diabetes or prediabetes-a number expected to rise to one in three by 2020. It’s important that Canadians educate themselves about the three different types of this disease to recognize if they are at risk.

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Type 1

About 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1. Although its cause remains unknown, people who have a family history of diabetes are considered at a higher risk of developing the disease. It usually begins in childhood and occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin, a hormone that controls the level of glucose in the blood.

Those affected require insulin therapy, which can be injected by pen, syringe or pump. The number of injections needed per day varies, as do the timing and dosage. People with type 1 diabetes must keep their blood-glucose levels in the target range. To measure levels, they can use a portable glucose meter that usually works by pricking a fingertip to draw a drop of blood. Until a cure is found for type 1 diabetes, this is a lifelong process.

There is a misconception that diabetes is caused by consuming too much sugar or that it is a result of poor diet or lack of physical activity. While it’s true that a healthy diet and physical activity may help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes, there is no way to prevent type 1.

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sugar diabetes

Type 2

This is the most common type of dia­betes: Among Canadians with the disease, approximately 90 percent are affected by type 2, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body does not effectively use the insulin it produces. As a result, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used for energy.

Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adulthood, although increasing numbers of children and adolescents in high-risk populations (such as people of Aboriginal, African, Asian, Hispanic or South Asian descent) are being diagnosed. Complications are the same for both types of diabetes.

Those affected by type 2 may be prescribed diabetes medications (including insulin and others). They may also need to monitor their blood-glucose levels; how often they need to test these levels will vary depending on the individual.

You may have heard the term “pre­diabetes.” This occurs when a person’s blood-glucose levels are elevated, but are not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2. Approximately 50 percent of those with pre­diabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is not simply a disease of lifestyle-risk factors such as other health complications, age (being over 40), family history and ethnicity also increase a person’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes. While a healthy lifestyle is beneficial for everyone, it is especially important for people who are at high risk for diabetes because of these genetic or inherited factors. Changes such as increasing consumption of fresh fruit and vege­tables, eating whole grains, limiting portion sizes and increasing physical activity to maintain a healthy weight may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

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gestational diabetes


This is the third type of diabetes. It is a temporary condition that develops during pregnancy. Blood-glucose levels usually return to normal following delivery; however, both mother and child are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Although diabetes can lead to serious complications, there is hope, because people living with the disease can do many things to stay well. Management strategies include working with a healthcare team, following a healthy diet, being active and learning as much as possible about the disease. With proper care and management, people with diabetes can live active, independent and vital lives.

For more information, visit fightingdiabetes.ca.

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