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STUDY: Diabetes May Be 5 Distinct Diseases, Not Just Type 1 & Type 2

Instead of two types of diabetes, there could actually be five — or even more, which will forever change the way America’s most common metabolic disorder is treated.
diabetes, diabetes studies, more than one type of diabetes? diabetes types

Endocrinology unit of a hospital, Savoie, France. Diabetic patients are hospitalized for a week to undergo an assessment, evolution of the diabetes, dietary habits and therapeutic education. A nurse teaches a patient who had type 1 diabetes how to use an Omnipo, an insulin pump without tubing, managed with an electronic control unit. (Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

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.

Diabetes is the most common metabolic disorder in the world, affecting 9.4 percent of Americans and costing the country an estimated $245 billion per year in medical costs and reduced productivity.

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.”

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  • Kat Merck is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. An amateur naturalist who stud... keep reading

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