No items found.

Is Type 2 Diabetes Considered an Autoimmune Disease?

Published on 
May 17, 2024
May 17, 2024
No items found.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, affecting 38.4 million people, or 11.6% of the population. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form, accounting for 90 to 95% of cases. But is diabetes an autoimmune disease like type 1? While type 2 diabetes isn’t considered an autoimmune condition, there’s a link between medications used to treat autoimmune conditions (immunosuppressants) and type 2 diabetes.  

Virta writer Meghan Bea understands this connection all too well. After living with lupus — one of the most well-known autoimmune conditions — for four years, Meghan was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Her doctor told her the medication used to treat a life-threatening lupus flare likely led her to develop diabetes. Encouraged by the online diabetes community, Meghan made lifestyle and nutrition changes that have helped her manage both conditions. 

“I’m now armed with something even more powerful than medicine: the knowledge that, unlike lupus, diabetes is reversible,” she says. Read on to learn more about the connection between autoimmune diseases and diabetes.

What is considered an autoimmune disorder?

Your body’s immune system is designed to protect you from threats, including: 

  • Cancer cells
  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Chemicals and toxins
  • Tissue and blood from outside the body (such as from an organ transplant)

When the body is exposed to these and other threats, the immune system mounts a coordinated defense..

Autoimmune conditions occur when the body mistakenly attacks healthy cells, often leading to inflammation and potentially serious symptoms. One in 15 people in the United States have an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disorders can affect:

  • Endocrine glands, including the pancreas and thyroid
  • Muscles
  • Skin
  • Joints and tendons
  • Blood vessels
  • Connective tissues
  • Red blood cells

Some well-known autoimmune conditions include:

  • Type 1 diabetes (but not type 2 diabetes)
  • Celiac disease
  • Graves’ disease
  • Hashimoto thyroiditis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Lupus

What the research says

Experts aren’t sure what causes autoimmune disorders, though they suspect contributing factors to be genetics or certain triggers (like viruses or bacteria) that confuse the immune system.

Risk factors for autoimmune conditions include:

  • A current autoimmune disease diagnosis (you’re at higher risk of developing a second autoimmune condition)
  • Exposure to chemicals or toxins 
  • Family history of autoimmune disease
  • Being female (78% of cases are in women)
  • Obesity
  • Infections
  • Certain medications, such as antibiotics, statins and blood pressure medicines
  • Smoking

A note on immunosuppressant medications

Immunosuppressants are medications used to treat autoimmune conditions and are also prescribed to people who have undergone transplants, such as an organ or stem cell transplants. They stop the body’s immune system from attacking both unwanted intruders (like bacteria, viruses and toxins) as well as healthy tissue and cells.

Immunosuppressant medications, such as corticosteroids, can cause weight gain and hyperglycemia as a side effect because they can cause insulin resistance, just as they did in Meghan’s case.

The Takeaway

While your body’s immune system and immunosuppressants can play a role in the development of diabetes, there are several ways you can take charge of your health and prevent or reverse your diagnosis. So if you want to live a healthier lifestyle, Virta Health may be able to help. By making healthy lifestyle changes in a medical setting with supportive resources like 1:1 virtual coaching, you can regain control of your health and feel like yourself again. See if you’re eligible for Virta Health here.

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or any advice relating to your health. View full disclaimer

Are you living with type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, or unwanted weight?

Check to see if your health plan or employer covers Virta
Check Eligibility

Related Blog Posts

No items found.

Frequently Asked Questions

No items found.