For most of medical history, diabetes has been divided into two subgroups—Type 1 and Type 2—but according to new research, that may have been incorrect all along.
A new Scandinavian study, recently published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, suggests diabetes could actually be five different, genetically distinct diseases, with potentially different treatments for each.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood and stems from the body’s inability to produce insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps move blood sugar into cells rather than allow it to build up in the blood. Type 2 diabetes, which is by far more frequently diagnosed, emerges later in life and is typically related to obesity, inactivity and poor diet leading to insulin resistance over time.
The new potential subtypes uncovered by the researchers include three severe and two mild forms of the disease, with possible causes ranging from autoimmune problems to obesity and age.
Type 1 and 2 diabetes are typically managed with diet, blood sugar monitoring and insulin injections, but identifying potential degrees and causes could lead to more targeted and efficient therapies.
“Evidence suggests that early treatment for diabetes is crucial to prevent life-shortening complications,” said researcher Leif Groop of the Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC) in Sweden. “More accurately diagnosing diabetes could give us valuable insights into how it will develop over time, allowing us to predict and treat complications before they develop.”