August 11, 2020
3 min. read

Diabetes Type 1 and Diabetes Type 2: What’s the Difference?


There are two types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Both forms of diabetes have to do with the body’s chronic inability to regulate blood sugar, or glucose. Glucose is the fuel for the body’s cells, but insulin is the key that allows glucose to enter the body’s cells.

Symptoms of Diabetes

Both types of diabetes share similar symptoms, including:

increased thirst and urination increased hunger fatigue blurred vision numbness or tingling in the feet or hands sores that do not heal unexplained weight loss

However, the causes and risk factors for both disease types are different. Type 1 affects 8% of everyone with diabetes, while type 2 diabetes affects about 90% according to Diabetes UK.

Nutrition management is equally important for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes may need to identify how much insulin to inject after eating certain foods, while people with type 2 diabetes need to focus on healthy eating. Type 1 diabetes tends to develop quickly, while symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop more slowly. Also, type 1 diabetes is managed by taking insulin, while type 2 diabetes is managed with medication, nutrition and exercise.

Type 1 Diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin at all. Diabetes type 1 usually develops in children and adolescents, but can occur in older people as well. There is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes and it is often hereditary.

In most people with type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system, which normally fights infection, attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. As a result, your pancreas stops making insulin. Without insulin, glucose can’t get into your cells and your blood glucose rises above normal. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive.

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include:

  • Family history. Anyone with a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes has a slightly increased risk of developing the condition.
  • Genetics. The presence of certain genes indicates an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
  • Geography. The incidence of type 1 diabetes tends to increase as you travel away from the equator.
  • Age. Although type 1 diabetes can appear at any age, it appears at two noticeable peaks. The first peak occurs in children between 4 and 7 years old, and the second is in children between 10 and 14 years old.

Type 2 Diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes don’t respond to insulin as well as they should and later in the disease often don’t make enough insulin. Too much glucose then stays in your blood, and not enough reaches your cells. Risk factors include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • Insulin resistance
  • Genes and family history

Both types of diabetes can lead to chronically high blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of diabetes complications.

According to the NIDDK, “As of 2015, 30.3 million people in the United States, or 9.4 percent of the population, had diabetes. More than 1 in 4 of them didn’t know they had the disease. Diabetes affects 1 in 4 people over the age of 65. About 90-95 percent of cases in adults are type 2 diabetes.”

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