Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes: What is the Difference?


A person tests their blood sugar levels with a blood glucose monitor.
Highlights
  • Diabetes is a condition that occurs when the body underproduces insulin or doesn't use it effectively, leading to high blood glucose levels.

  • Type 1 diabetes is when the body doesn't produce enough insulin, while type 2 diabetes happens when the body doesn't use insulin effectively.

  • Insulin can be taken orally, through injections, or with a pump, along with other medications that regulate glucose levels.

  • Type 1 diabetes can be managed effectively but not cured, while type 2 diabetes can be managed and prevented through a healthy lifestyle.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects over 37 million people in the U.S., which is around 28.5% of the population.

Anyone can get diabetes, but certain risk factors, like age and genetics, may increase your chances of developing this condition.

The four types of diabetes are:

  • Type 1 diabetes: An autoimmune condition where the body attacks its own cells.

  • Type 2 diabetes: A common condition caused by insulin resistance.

  • Prediabetes: When an individual has abnormally high blood sugar levels but they haven’t yet developed diabetes. This is a warning sign that an individual is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes if preventative measures aren’t taken.

  • Gestational diabetes: Diabetes that develops during pregnancy.

All four types of diabetes typically occur when the body cannot regulate, store, or use glucose effectively. Glucose is a type of sugar that the body gets from the food we eat and is also produced by the liver.

Diabetes is a serious condition caused by either a lack of insulin or ineffective insulin.

If left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, resulting in little to no insulin production.

This means that people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin via injections or an insulin pump to regulate their blood sugar levels and sustain their health.

Key Point: What is Insulin?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), insulin is a hormone responsible for regulating the body’s blood sugar, and humans can’t survive without it.

If we don’t have insulin, blood sugar can’t be absorbed into the body’s cells and will build up in the individual’s bloodstream. This causes high blood sugar levels, which can lead to serious health problems.

Type 1 diabetes mainly affects children, adolescents, and young adults; however, it can also develop in older people.

This condition is less common than type 2 diabetes, with only five to 10% of people living with type 1 diabetes in the U.S.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

The CDC says that type 1 diabetes is caused by the autoimmune reaction described above, where the body mistakes its own cells as a threat.

Some people may develop type 1 diabetes due to genetics, which are traits passed down from parents to children.

The CDC also mentions that a viral trigger may be needed for the condition to develop, such as an enterovirus. These are conditions that enter the body through the intestines, such as polio or meningitis.

A young girl sits on a couch and tests her blood glucose levels.

What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

The symptoms for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are fairly similar.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you may experience:

  • Frequent urination

  • Increased thirst

  • Increased hunger

  • Blurry vision

  • Fatigue

  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet

  • Sores or wounds that take too long to heal

  • Unexplained weight loss

How is type 1 diabetes treated?

If your healthcare provider suspects you have type 1 diabetes, they may run blood tests to detect the presence of autoantibodies in your blood. Autoantibodies are proteins that indicate if the body's immune system is targeting and attacking its own cells, particularly the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes, and the use of insulin is the most common treatment.

Insulin can be taken in the form of an injection or an insulin pump, which supplies the hormone to the body via a small tube. It can also be taken orally as a tablet.

Treatment for type 1 diabetes requires people to regularly test their blood sugar levels, as these can fluctuate. These tests can be done at home using a kit.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body’s cells start resisting the effects of insulin, meaning glucose can’t enter the cells.

This results in a buildup of sugar in the blood and the body requiring much higher levels of insulin in order for it to enter the cells. This is called insulin resistance.

As mentioned above, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that helps the cells use glucose efficiently. With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas makes less insulin than before, and the body becomes unable to use glucose effectively.

In type 2 diabetes, an excess of glucose may build up in the bloodstream. This is because the body is unable to use insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.

This buildup can cause serious health problems like damage to the blood vessels, heart disease, and stroke.

In the first few years of having type 2 diabetes, patients may not need to take insulin medication. As the condition progresses over time, they may need supplemental insulin to help regulate their blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes typically develops over a long period of time as people age. However, children can also develop this condition. It’s worth noting that type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune disorder and is far more common than type 1 diabetes.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

The exact causes of type 2 diabetes aren’t fully understood, but researchers believe that lifestyle factors like obesity and genetics can prevent the body’s cells from working as they should.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

The symptoms of this condition are similar to type 1 diabetes, which may include extreme thirst and hunger, fatigue, increased urination, and blurry vision.

Other type 2 diabetes symptoms may also include:

  • Frequent infections

  • Gum problems

  • Erectile dysfunction (ED)

  • Headaches

  • Dry or itchy skin

How is type 2 diabetes treated?

Type 2 diabetes can often be managed by making healthy lifestyle changes, including eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.

Doctors may also prescribe medications to patients with type 2 diabetes. For example, a medication called metformin can help to regulate the amount of glucose the liver produces. These medications help the body use insulin more effectively and may improve insulin resistance.

Your doctor may also recommend that you test your blood sugar levels regularly and share your results with them so that they can help you manage the condition.

A woman sits on her bed and tests her blood glucose levels.

What is the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

The main difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes is how it affects the body’s production and use of insulin.

In type 1 diabetes, the body is unable to produce insulin, resulting in a lack of this crucial hormone.

On the other hand, individuals with type 2 diabetes are capable of producing insulin, but their bodies may not have the ability to use it properly.

Some other key differences include:

Difference

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

Onset

Often sudden, and symptoms may develop over the course of several weeks.

Can take many years to develop, and individuals may not experience any symptoms at all.

Insulin treatment

Requires lifelong use of insulin medication.

Might not need insulin treatment at all.

Obesity

Not typically associated with obesity.

Found to be strongly associated with obesity and may even be caused by excess body weight.

Prevalence

Uncommon. Only five to 10% of diabetics have type 1 diabetes.

Around 90% of diabetics have type 2 diabetes.

Type of condition

An autoimmune condition leading to an insulin deficiency.

A metabolic disorder characterized by insulin resistance.

Age

Typically starts in childhood or early adulthood.

Usually develops in adulthood.

What are the Risk Factors for Diabetes?

Although the risk factors for type 1 diabetes are not completely understood, it is believed that family history and age could play a role.

People with family members who have type 1 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing this autoimmune disease. Younger people are also more likely to develop this disorder, although the reason for this is unclear.

The current research into the risk factors for type 2 diabetes is more extensive. Studies show that known risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Having prediabetes

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Being 45 or older

  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle

  • Having gestational diabetes during pregnancy

  • High blood pressure

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Genetic and environmental factors like having a family member with type 2 diabetes

Key Point: The Risk Factors of Low Vitamin D

A study found that individuals with low levels of vitamin D in their bodies may be at risk for developing both types of diabetes.

This is because processes in the body — like insulin sensitivity and immune function — may rely on vitamin D to work as they should.

How is Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Diagnosed?

There are four types of blood tests that healthcare providers can run to diagnose both types of diabetes.

Blood Test

Description

A1C test

Gives your doctor an indication of your average blood glucose level over the past few months.

Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test

Measures blood glucose levels after a period of fasting. Typically, you will be required to not eat for at least eight hours before the test.

Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT)

Requires patients to take a blood glucose test two hours before and two hours after drinking a sugary beverage. The test is intended to measure how the body processes glucose.

Random plasma glucose (RPG) test

Used to measure a patient’s blood sugar levels at any time of the day. There is no fasting required prior to taking this test.

A visual of healthy foods showing a balanced diet

Can Diabetes be Prevented?

There is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes, as it is often hereditary. However, the condition can be managed by medication.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, can be treated and even prevented by making certain lifestyle changes.

By following a healthy diet that includes plenty of fiber from whole grains and avoiding added sugars and processed foods, you may be able to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.

Another way to manage and prevent type 2 diabetes is by getting regular exercise. Losing weight, even if it is a small amount, may lower your risk of developing the condition.

Key Point: Which Type of Diabetes is Worse?

Type 1 diabetes can be considered worse than type 2 as it is an autoimmune disease that cannot be cured.

Where Can I Learn More About Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

By making an appointment with LifeMD, you can consult board-certified physicians or nurse practitioners to get a diagnosis and treatment for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Visit our website to book your online appointment today.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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