Nearly 10 percent of people in the U.S. have diabetes, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the condition a "growing health problem." Most of us have heard of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but a new study proposes something pretty groundbreaking: There could actually be five types of diabetes. The research, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology on Thursday, proposes that understanding the disease could help medical professionals better treat the condition. "A refined classification could provide a powerful tool to individualise [sic] treatment regimens and identify individuals with increased risk of complications at diagnosis," the study says.
It's important to note that researchers aren't suggesting we get rid of Type 1 or Type 2 diagnoses — instead, doctors and patients would have a better idea of what they're actually dealing with, thanks to these broader classifications. Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes, is diagnosed if a patient's pancreas isn't making enough insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body isn't able to use the insulin it produces. The new classifications may seem overwhelming if you have a hard time differentiating between the existing Type 1 and Type 2, but it could end up helping those who deal with diabetes and the doctors who diagnose the disease.
Researchers created five groups from more than 13,000 newly diagnosed diabetes patients. According to a press release from Lund University, these are the five groups:
- Group 1, severe autoimmune diabetes: This type of diabetes is very similar to both Type 1 diabetes and latent autoimmune diabetes, which are both autoimmune diseases. It usually is diagnosed at a young age and leads to problems with producing insulin.
- Cluster 2, severe insulin-deficient diabetes: The second cluster is made up of people who have trouble producing insulin. They're also most prone to vision problems or even blindness.
- Cluster 3, severe insulin-resistant diabetes: According to researchers, this type corresponds with obesity and insulin resistance, which increases blood sugar. This cluster was most at risk for kidney damage.
- Cluster 4, mild obesity-related diabetes: This group includes people who are diagnosed young and are also obese.
- Cluster 5, mild age-related diabetes: The last cluster involves elderly patients and is also the most common form the researchers found, with about 40 percent of people falling into this cluster.
According to one of the study's authors, certain clusters will benefit more than others from this research. “The most insulin resistant patients (Group 3) have the most to gain from the new diagnostics as they are the ones who are currently most incorrectly treated," Leif Groop, a professor at Lund University Diabetes Centre, says in the press release. "Current diagnostics and classification of diabetes are insufficient and unable to predict future complications or choice of treatment." The researchers have been studying diabetes patients for a decade and plan to continue the research.
Emma Ahlqvist, an associate professor at Lund University, says in the release that the research "will enable earlier treatment to prevent complications in patients who are most at risk of being affected." Thanks to the study, doctors may be able to tailor treatment to fit a patient's issues more accurately, which could help ease some of the frustration that comes with having an incurable disease. In the mean time, we can all educate ourselves on what causes diabetes and what to look out for. The CDC says that 84 million Americans have pre-diabetes, which is diagnosed if you have high blood sugar that isn't high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. If it isn't treated, pre-diabetes will evolve into the actual condition. This research is also raising awareness about the complexity of diabetes, which is a good thing.