In Brief

What are the five types of diabetes?

New study suggests the disease is more complex than previously thought

There are five distinct types of diabetes, rather than the two currently observed, a new study has found.

The researchers say the revised classification for diabetes - a metabolic disease that results in high blood glucose - could  “lead to better treatments and help doctors more accurately predict life-threatening complications”, The Daily Telegraph reports.

For the study, published in medical journal The Lancet, scientists from the Lund University Diabetes Centre, in Sweden, and the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland monitored 13,270 newly diagnosed diabetes patients ranging in age from 18 to 97.

Until now diabetes has traditionally been split into two “types” . In type 1, the body stops making insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. It is generally diagnosed in childhood and accounts for only around 10% of cases.

Type 2 occurs when the body makes highly limited amounts of insulin, which means glucose stays in the blood. This type is often associated with health and lifestyle choices including diet and exercise levels.

But the new research suggests there may be as many as five different types of the disease, split into three severe forms and two less aggressive ones - a theory that could explain why some diabetic patients respond differently to treatment than others.

Prof Leif Groop, one of the researchers, told the BBC that the findings were “extremely important”, and represented “a real step towards precision medicine”.

“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,” Groop added.

For instance, patients who fall under the second diabetes “cluster” of the five identified in the study would currently be classified as type 2, since they do not have an autoimmune disease.

However, the study suggests that cluster 2 is probably due to a beta-cell defect, rather than being overweight, and that the treatment should therefore more closely mirror that for patients currently classed as type 1.

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