Life in LADA land

Living Philippians 1:6 with type 1.5 diabetes

Learning the language of diabetes

on April 8, 2012

I thought it might be time to do a little diabetes education here.  You can get all the details on the websites that are listed on the right column of this page, but maybe I can put things in terms that non-sciencey types can understand.

Back in college, I learned there were basically two types of diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes, which used to be called Juvenile Onset Diabetes, is caused by a person’s own antibodies attacking the beta cells of the pancreas and knocking them out so that they can no longer make insulin. (This kind of disease is called “auto-immune” since the cells of body are being attacked as if they were a foreign invader that the antibodies think they need to destroy.)  Insulin is necessary to help transport glucose into the cells of the body so that the cells can use the glucose for energy.  What happens is that once a critical proportion of beta cells are knocked out, the person’s blood glucose (BG) goes up and up and up, because the body’s cells can’t use it – it just keeps accumulating in the blood.  Eventually it is excreted in the urine too.  The high BG levels cause the person to be really thirsty, which in turn makes them need to urinate a LOT. And, because the body can’t use the glucose, the person tends to lose weight fairly quickly, even though they are probably eating as much or even more than they were before. If it isn’t brought under control, it can lead to serious consequences, which I will talk about in a later post.   It used to be thought that this happened only in children and young adults. Type 1 diabetics must take insulin by injection or through a pump.

Next up is Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called Adult Onset Diabetes, for apparent reasons – it is the kind that showed up in adults.  Most type 2 diabetics can still make their own insulin, at least at first.  The problem in type 2 is that the cells of the body are “resistant” to the insulin – in other words, the cells don’t recognize the insulin and so won’t allow the glucose in to the cells even though there is insulin around.  This tends to happen when a person is overweight, but not always. And, it is not caused by eating too much sugar, or too many carbohydrates, or too much of anything else specific. If it is caught early enough, while there is still insulin being produced, blood glucose levels can be controlled with diet, weight loss, exercise and non-insulin medications. Often, a doctor can tell that a person is at risk for Type 2, because the BG levels creep up above normal over time.  It can’t really be called adult onset anymore, because unfortunately it is showing up much more frequently in children.  Eventually most Type 2s will need insulin.

Now I had also learned about Gestational Diabetes, which shows up temporarily in pregnant women, but once the baby has been born, blessedly reverses itself and things get back to normal eventually. During the pregnancy though, the mother with Gestational Diabetes must work to control her BG, because high BG in the mom can have adverse affects on the baby, including a risk that the child is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

OK, so now we come to the fun part.  Turns out, there is another kind of diabetes that I was lucky (HA!) enough to develop. It’s called LADA, or Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults. It’s also called Type 1.5 Diabetes.  This is basically Type 1 diabetes that develops long past childhood  – and no fair making faces about how MUCH past childhood I was when I developed LADA!  It can also carry with it some resistance to insulin.  It comes on fairly rapidly compared to Type 2, and some LADAs can go for a while without insulin. That was not true for me – no medication other than insulin would work to bring my BG down to normal. And it developed very suddenly in me – the symptoms came on literally overnight.

So those are the basics.  I think my next post might be about the cool new technology that I have learned about as a result of having diabetes.  Most of you out there have no idea what diabetics, whatever type they might be, have to do in order to maintain some semblance of normal BG.  I’ll also explain why keeping BGs normal is so important.  I hope this has been helpful.  Stay tuned for more information soon!

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