Type 1 Diabetes: Adults Can Get It, Too

A little girl with diabetes tests her blood sugar at the doctor.
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When we think about type 1 diabetes, we tend to think of it as a disease that certain babies are born with. In most of these cases, its caught early, and kids grow up knowing how to monitor and control their own blood sugar levels.

But new data from the UK shows that adults may be just as likely to develop Type 1 diabetes, long after childhood and adolescence.

Poring over tens of thousands of cases, researchers found that 42 percent of type 1 diabetes cases arose when people were 31 to 60 years old, while 58 percent were diagnosed at 30 or younger. Type 1 was equally likely to appear across the first six decades of life surprising for a disease that was commonly known as juvenile diabetes until 1997.

Diagnosing this complex disease, whether at age 5 or 50, begins with understanding its nuances and risk factors something AdventHealth's diabetes experts know a thing or two about. This world-class facility is one of the largest and most comprehensive diabetes and endocrine centers in the country.

Francisco Correa, MD, endocrinologist with AdventHealth Medical Group's Florida Diabetes and Endocrine Center, adds, AdventHealth Diabetes Institute has 25 years of experience in the diagnosis and treatment of Diabetes type 1 and strives to offer its patients the most up-to-date therapies for the management of this condition.

So what's the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, exactly?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that destroys the body's insulin-making cells, allowing glucose to build up dangerously in the bloodstream. It tends to run in families, is not preventable, and accounts for a very small number of total diabetes cases only about five to 10 percent.

Diabetes type 1 is caused by a combination of immunologic and genetic factors. The detection of antibodies like ICA (Islet Cell Antibodies ) or GAD (Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase) are associated with a higher risk of having diabetes type 1. These antibodies are frequently seen in late-onset type 1 diabetes, Dr. Correa says.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, usually appears in adults, as a result of poor diet, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. This increasingly common disease makes up 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases.

Because type 1 diabetes is so often thought of as a childhood disease, its not uncommon for adults to be first misdiagnosed as having type 2 or some other illness altogether. There is no simple test to differentiate between the two, and in fact, the two diseases often share many of the same symptoms, complicating matters even more.

Dr. Correa notes some differences in the treatments of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In type 1, patients must be on insulin to treat the lack of this hormone caused by an immunologic impairment of the pancreas.

Type 2 is usually caused by insulin resistance and patients can be treated with oral medications, non-insulin injections, and depending on the severity of hyperglycemia, insulin may be required.

Type 1 Diabetes: What to Look For

The symptoms of Type 1 diabetes are generally the same for adults as they are for kids. Here are some of the common warning signs:

  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive thirst
  • More frequent urination
  • Weight loss (often rapid)
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Vision changes
  • Sweet or fruity-smelling breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vaginal yeast infections

Symptoms can strike suddenly and with ferocity. Left untreated, Type 1 diabetes can lead to coma or even death within days or weeks.

The distinction and diagnosis of type 1 is frequently done by an endocrinologist who has the training and experience in the management of this disorder. AdventHealth Diabetes Institute has outstanding endocrinologists who are evaluating and treating these patients on a daily basis, notes Dr. Correa.

If you have one or more of these symptoms, contact your family doctor immediately, or call the AdventHealth Diabetes Institute at Call855-303-DOCS.

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