Uncommon Diabetes Types: Symptoms and Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on March 04, 2023
3 min read

If you're like a lot of people, you probably think there are two kinds of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. But there are some forms of the disease that don't fit neatly into those groups. MODY (maturity-onset diabetes of the young) and LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults) are two prime examples. They share some features of type 1 and type 2, but also have their own symptoms and treatments.

MODY usually shows up when you're an adolescent or young adult. It's caused by changes in genes, called mutations, that affect how well your body makes insulin, a hormone that helps your body use sugar for energy. If you don't have enough insulin, your blood sugar levels go up.

MODY is relatively rare. About 5% of people in the U.S. with diabetes have that type.

Symptoms can vary and depend on which gene mutation is causing your MODY.

In general, the symptoms of MODY are mild and show up gradually. That's why many people first learn they have it when a routine blood test shows they have abnormal blood sugar levels.

If you do have symptoms, they'll be the same as those for other types of diabetes, such as:

If a blood sugar test shows you have diabetes, a doctor might suspect that you have MODY for reasons such as:

  • You were diagnosed with diabetes in adolescence or early adulthood.
  • You have several generations of people in your family who have had diabetes.
  • You don't have the typical features of type 1 or type 2 diabetes such as obesity or high blood pressure.

Your doctor may suggest you get a genetic test to confirm you have MODY. This is usually done with a blood or saliva sample that gets checked in a lab.

Your treatment options for MODY, and how well they're likely to work, depend on which genetic mutation is causing your disease. Doctors treat most forms of MODY with a type of oral diabetes drug called sulfonylureas. These drugs help your pancreas make more insulin.

Depending on the type of MODY you have, you may need injections of insulin. Some people are able to manage their condition with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise.

You may sometimes hear people call LADA by its unofficial name -- "type 1.5 diabetes." Like type 1 diabetes, LADA happens because your body makes antibodies that cause the immune system -- your body's defense against germs -- to attack the insulin-making cells of your pancreas.

As the ability to make insulin is lost, your body can no longer control blood sugar levels. Unlike type 1 diabetes, your symptoms get worse slowly and you may not need treatment for many months or years after diagnosis.

LADA symptoms are similar to those of type 1 or 2 diabetes. You may get thirsty, need to pee often, get blurry vision, or lose weight even though your appetite goes up.

You may also have symptoms like:

LADA usually starts when you're older than 30, and doctors sometimes mistake it for type 2 diabetes. But your doctor might begin to suspect that you have LADA if you don't get better with standard diabetes medications that you take by mouth.

The only way to confirm a diagnosis of LADA is through a blood test that checks for antibodies against the insulin-making cells of the pancreas. Your doctor may also check for levels of a protein called C-peptide to get information on how much insulin your body is making.

At first, you may be able to manage LADA with diabetes medications you take by mouth as well as diet and lifestyle changes.

Since your body gradually damages the insulin-making cells of your pancreas, you'll eventually need insulin shots to manage your blood sugar levels.