Double diabetes: Growing threat among diabetics

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It's been called the epidemic of the 21st century: Diabetes kills more people than all cancers combined. Three million Americans are living with type 1 diabetes and almost 24 million have Type 2. Now, there's a growing threat to many of them.

Diabetes is a disease Dr. Steve Edelman knows all too well.

"I got diabetes when I was 15. I was super tired. I would fall asleep in class. I had excessive thirst," said Edelman, University of California San Diego Diabetes Specialist.

He has type 1 diabetes, a disease that used to be called juvenile diabetes but can hit at any age. He keeps it under control with an insulin pump. On the flip side, his patient Dara Elstein was diagnosed with Type 2, a genetic disease made worse by poor diet and lack of exercise. In Type 2, there is either not enough insulin or the body is resistant to it.

"I was drinking probably close to 70 to 80 ounces of water in about a three hour time sitting," said Elstein.

Drugs helped Dara lose 70 pounds. The dramatic weight loss should have helped her get off her medications for Type 2, but it didn't. Tests revealed she had double diabetes.

"It means you have both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes together," explained Edelman.

"I didn't even know that was a possibility," said Elstein.

Doctors are seeing it more and more. Double diabetes can hit those with Type 1 or Type 2. If not treated, patients can experience symptoms of both diseases like increased thirst and frequent urination, blurred vision, slow-healing sores and frequent infections. Now that Dara knows she has it, she's trying to control it by keeping a close eye on her glucose monitor, taking daily pills and giving herself up to nine insulin shots a day.

"For me it's a constant struggle," said Elstein.

A struggle she will continue to fight and more people will likely have to fight, too.

The latest hope for diabetes comes is an artificial pancreas that's in the works. It automatically monitors blood sugar levels and deals with any problems instantly, without the patient checking levels or giving themselves shots.

Additional Information:

WHAT IS DOUBLE DIABETES: Double diabetes, also called hybrid diabetes or type-3 diabetes, is a combination of both type-1 and type-2 diabetes and can develop in individuals that initially only had type-1 or type-2. The number of people with double diabetes in the United States is rising and can be hard to diagnose and treat since symptoms of both type-1 and type-2 diabetes are experienced by individuals with the hybrid diabetes. 

WHAT CAUSES DOUBLE DIABETES: Double diabetes can be caused by a couple different things, dependent on whether the individual first had type-1 or type-2. If type-1 diabetics begin to gain a lot of excess weight, their body may start to become insulin-resistant. This means that in addition to their bodies' inability to produce insulin due to type-1 diabetes, their typical insulin injections will no longer work because they have become insulin-resistant, which is the cause of type-2 diabetes. The person then develops double diabetes and may need to begin taking medications along with insulin injections in order to control their blood sugar levels. Type-2 diabetics who develop double diabetes are even more difficult to treat because the onset of type-1 diabetes could be a result of antibodies which attack the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. So whatever insulin their pancreas could produce is being destroyed by their own antibodies leading to symptoms of type-1 diabetes along with their old type-2 symptoms.

PREVENTION: Double diabetes can be difficult to treat because symptoms of both type-1 and type-2 diabetes need to be treated. However, there are some lifestyle changes and precautions that can be taken to help prevent the development of double diabetes for those who are already diabetic as well as those who are not.

  1. Eat well-balanced and nutritious meals with limited carbohydrates, which have a lot of sugar, and lots of proteins and good fats. This will help diabetics maintain healthy blood sugar levels.  
  2. Exercise regularly to avoid gaining too much weight which can lead to type-2 diabetes.
  3. For people who are already diabetic, they need to understand when and how to coordinate insulin injections before meals. (Source:

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