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

child getting glucose level blood test

Story at-a-glance -

  • Learn the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes — the two major types of diabetes that people are familiar with
  • Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can be differentiated from each other by what happens in the bodies of the patients

Sometimes, diabetes can be confusing because the different types of this disease have characteristics that set them apart from each other. In this article, you'll learn the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

The Major Difference Between These Diseases

Basically, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can be differentiated from each other by what happens in the bodies of the patients. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that causes a person’s immune system to mistakenly attack the pancreatic beta cells responsible for producing insulin.

Once beta cells are destroyed, the body's ability to produce enough insulin and regulate blood glucose levels decreases. If not addressed, this can cause death in anywhere from a few days to weeks from a hyperglycemic coma. This insulin deficiency in the body is a reason why Type 1 diabetes is called an “insulin-dependent” diabetes.1

Type 2 diabetes (or noninsulin-dependent diabetes) means that the body's cells have become insulin resistant. Insulin and leptin resistance are said to be the underlying cause of Type 2 diabetes.

In this type of diabetes, while the pancreas does produce some insulin (usually too much), the organ is unable to recognize it and fails to use it properly. This means that the body is in an advanced stage of insulin resistance.

Inadequate insulin signaling can cause sugar to fail in getting inside the cells, leading to a buildup in the blood. Having high blood glucose levels means that the body's cells will be overexposed to insulin, and typically will be less responsive or unresponsive to insulin.

When the Symptoms Appear and the First Course of Treatment Are Different, Too

Type 1 diabetes is usually seen among children and young adults, and the disease is known to start suddenly among patients before they turn 20 years old. On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes symptoms can take years to appear.2

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can also be addressed in different ways. In patients with Type 1 diabetes, some doctors would recommend that they take supplemental insulin from the time they are diagnosed with the disease, since the body doesn’t produce enough insulin.

Conversely, patients in the early stage of Type 2 diabetes don't really need supplemental insulin, because they can utilize medications, make dietary changes and exercise to assist with lowering the risk or reversing the disease. Should the disease progress, however, insulin may be needed. 

However, there’s no place for insulin as a treatment for diabetes, especially Type 2 diabetes. The cost of insulin has risen by 700 percent between 1996 and 2016, with a single month’s worth of insulin now costing around $255, compared to less than $21 back in 1996.3

Apart from being expensive, using insulin as a diabetes treatment is even suggested to accelerate death4,5 — which shows that addressing diabetes has nothing to do with taking insulin or other types  of drugs to control blood sugar levels.

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What Are the Risk Factors for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

There are several differentiating risk factors between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes may emerge after a viral infection like mumps or rubella cytomegalovirus.

Meanwhile, Type 2 diabetes can develop because of factors like aging, obesity, an inactive lifestyle, dietary issues, medications and other problems experienced by the patient. Despite the differences, there are also a few similar risk factors between both types. These are:6

  • Genetic factors — Scientists have discovered some genes that are linked to the development of Type 1 diabetes, although it’s said that not everyone with these genetic factors develops the disease. Meanwhile, family history can play a role in the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
  • Vitamin D deficiency — Low levels of vitamin D, which is synthesized from sunlight, are common in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients. Vitamin D is said to help support function and insulin sensitivity. As such, people living in northern areas tend to have a higher diabetes risk.

A Better Understanding of This Disease May Help Reduce Risk

Now that there is an understanding on the underlying causes of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and how they develop, you can implement measures that will help you avoid behavior patterns that can negatively affect your health.

Avoid becoming another statistic in the ongoing diabetes epidemic by becoming more mindful of your habits and making lifestyle changes. For more information on Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and how to tell them apart from each other, continue reading these pages.

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