The Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Glucose is the most important source of energy not only for humans but for all organisms. However, for humans to be able to use that fuel we need insulin to help it enter our cells. Diabetes — both type 1 and type 2 — are chronic diseases that affect the way your body makes and regulates insulin and blood sugar levels.

People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce enough insulin or may not make any at all. People with type 2 diabetes don’t respond to or produce insulin efficiently and may have increased or decreased levels. Both of these diseases can lead to chronically high glucose levels and cause other serious health problems and complications and both require a healthy lifestyle and medical supervision. 

Type 1 and 2 also share many similar symptoms — like frequent urination, excessive thirst, disproportionate appetite, fatigue, blurry vision, and cuts or sores that don’t properly heal. In addition, irritability, mood swings, and weight loss are common symptoms for people with type 1 while people with type 2 may experience numbness and tingling in extremities. 

 
TYPE 1 TYPE 2
5-10% of Cases 90-95% of Cases
Autoimmune Disease Metabolic Condition
Sudden Onset Mostly at a Young Age Gradual Onset Mostly in Adults
Little to No Insulin Production Insulin Production Can Be Normal, Increased, or Decreased
Causes are Unknown but Genetics May Play a Role Causes Include Genetics, Aging, Inactivity, Diet, and Lifestyle
Cannot Be Prevented or Cured Cannot Be Cured but Can Be Prevented and Sometimes Managed Through Lifestyle Changes
Requires Insulin Injections for Life Requires Insulin as Needed — Injected or Oral

Type 1 

Type 1 diabetes is the less common of the two types — around 5-10% of all cases of diabetes are type 1. Onset is often sudden and usually at a younger age — although it can develop at any time. It is classified as an autoimmune disorder because the disease causes the immune system to mistake the body’s insulin-producing beta cells for forein invaders. Researchers still don’t know why, but the immune system attacks and destroys its own beta cells leaving the body unable to produce sufficient levels of insulin. While research is still ongoing, studies suggest genetics, environment, and exposure to viruses all could play a role in development of type 1 diabetes. 

Type 2 

With 90-95% of all cases being classified as type 2, this type is the more common. In fact, nearly one in ten people will get Type 2 diabetes and generally experience a slow development of symptoms over time, usually later in life. It is considered a metabolic condition because the body develops insulin resistance that impedes normal metabolic function. People with type 2 still produce insulin — levels can be increased, decreased, or normal — but the body is no longer able to effectively use it.  More studies are needed to determine why people become insulin resistant, but genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors may contribute.

Diagnosis

Type 1 and 2 are both diagnosed using a blood test called the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test which determines your average blood glucose levels over the past few months. An elevated A1C level over 6.5 indicated diabetes. 

Treatment

There is no cure for diabetes of either type and monitoring your blood sugar levels alongside your doctor’s recommendations is essential for both to maintain healthy levels and prevent complications. 

For people with type 1 diabetes who don’t produce enough insulin, regular insulin injections are necessary. Some people use manual injections into soft tissue several times daily whereas others use insulin pumps to provide a steady flow of insulin throughout the day. There is no prevention for type 1 diabetes. 

Type 2 diabetes can often be treated, controlled, and even reversed with diet and lifestyle changes — especially when addressed early. However, many people often need additional insulin support via oral medications or injections. 

If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of diabetes we urge you to seek out professional medical care. Only a doctor can diagnose and prescribe treatment for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. While there are many differences in how these two types of disease work in your body there are also many important similarities — for example, close monitoring of blood glucose levels is key to staying on top of your symptoms and preventing complications for both types. Don’t be afraid to address any possible symptoms head on — because early detection can make a world of difference to your health!