African American male doctor discusses diabetes medication with older caucasian woman.

Adult-Onset Type 1 Diabetes Emerges Amongst Type 2 Misdiagnoses

Most people are aware of the two types of diabetes — type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is usually associated with a diagnosis during childhood or early adolescence, and type 2 is associated with a diagnosis during adulthood, but a lesser known variation of the disease is stirring up the pot. It’s called latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), and it’s a variation of type 1 diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, LADA is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells.

Because LADA appears in adulthood, people who have the disease are often initially misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but there are specific differences. For one, LADA tends to have a faster progression than type 2 diabetes, in which blood sugar problems can take months or even years to develop.

Another differentiator is that people who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are usually considered overweight, while people with LADA are often at a healthy weight.

Lastly, LADA and type 2 diabetes are treated with different medications. The anti-diabetic that is most commonly used to treat type 2, metformin, may show improvement in controlling blood sugar levels, but will eventually stop working as the patient’s immune system continues to destroy more insulin-producing cells.

While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Unlike type 2, its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent LADA, and it cannot be cured, but just like type 1 and 2, it can be managed.

LADA is managed with insulin injections or a continuous infusion through a pump. Insulin intake must be carefully balanced throughout the day based upon eating habits, exercise routines and long periods of time without consumption, like sleeping. In addition to insulin injections, people with LADA must constantly prick their fingers to measure their blood-glucose level and adjust injections accordingly.

The warning signs of type 1 and type 2 are very similar, which aids in the difficulty of diagnosing the correct type a patient has. But if you’ve experienced a recent onset of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor right away.

  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Drowsiness or lethargy
  • Increased appetite
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Sugar in the urine
  • Fruity odor on the breath
  • Heavy or labored breathing
  • Stupor or unconsciousness

Although a diabetes diagnosis, no matter the type, can be a scary ordeal, Texas Health Resources has diabetes outpatient education centers that offer group and individual counseling to assist patients in developing management skills. These centers are manned by a multidisciplinary team of diabetes educators, registered nurses and registered dietitians who can provide instructions regarding correct blood monitoring, how to manage your medications, how to detect and prevent complications, and healthy lifestyle adjustments, among other things.

Angela Bunyard, R.N., C.D.E., and coordinator of the Center for Diabetes Education and Self-Management at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, said these classes offer much more than diabetes education. They become havens for support.

“Education classes give people with diabetes reliable information about their diet, exercise and medication,” Bunyard said. “But classes also provide a supportive environment as people learn to deal with their diagnosis because they are around others who have the same condition. Patients can support one another and share information, and that kind of support can make their diagnosis feel less stressful.”

If you suspect you or a loved one may have diabetes, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. In need of a primary care physician? Visit THPG.org to find a practice near you. To learn more about your risk for developing diabetes or a diabetes education class, visit TexasHealth.org/Diabetes.

Want to read more? Check out The Importance of Being Educated About Diabetes.

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