Living with Diabetes

Type 1 vs Type 2 Diabetes


Diabetes is a disorder that affects your body's ability to convert blood sugar into energy. There are several forms of the disease, but the two most common are called type 1 and type 2. About 95% of people with diabetes have type 2, while around 5% have type 1.

Insulin is a hormone that helps your body absorb blood sugar. With type 1 diabetes, you stop making insulin, or you don't make enough. With type 2 diabetes, you still have insulin in your system, but your body becomes resistant to it, and it stops working. Either way, the result is the same: more and more glucose builds up in your blood. Over time, this can damage your organs and cause serious and even life-threatening complications.

While scientists are working to find a cure, currently both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are chronic conditions that can be managed with insulin therapy, diet, and exercise.

Symptoms

Symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Mood changes or irritability
  • Extreme hunger
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
  • Cuts that are slow to heal

While type 1 and type 2 diabetes have similar symptoms, they develop in different ways. Type 2 diabetes develops gradually, sometimes over many years, and people with type 2 diabetes may not know they have the disease until it's fairly advanced. Symptoms start small and can progress slowly, only becoming more apparent when complications start to develop. Although type 2 diabetes can develop at any age, it is most often diagnosed in later adulthood.

In contrast, type 1 diabetes tends to develop suddenly, and can escalate from mild to severe in a matter of weeks. Type 1 diabetes is more likely to be diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, which is why it used to be called "juvenile diabetes." However, it's possible to develop type 1 diabetes at any age.

Causes of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes develops as cells in the body become more and more resistant to insulin. As this occurs, they become less able to absorb glucose and convert it to energy. Over time, some people may also lose the ability to produce insulin altogether. In addition to genetics, a person's lifestyle choices can be a cause of type 2 diabetes. Eating an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise, and being overweight can all increase the risk of developing the disease.

Risk Factors

Lifestyle choices like diet and exercise don't play a role in developing type 1 diabetes. Risk factors include your age and family history. While you can develop type 1 diabetes at any age, most people are diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. And you are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes if you have a close relative who also has the disease.

With type 2 diabetes, being overweight, eating an unhealthy diet, and being sedentary can all increase your risk. But lifestyle isn't the only risk factor. Older people are at higher risk, as are people with a family history of type 2 diabetes. Having high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, or low levels of HDL "good" cholesterol can also increase your risk. And women who had gestational diabetes when they were pregnant are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Diagnosis

There are several tests that are used to diagnose diabetes.

  • The glycated hemoglobin test, or A1C test, measures your average blood sugar levels over several months.
  • A fasting blood sugar test measures your blood sugar levels after you've fasted overnight.
  • A random blood sugar test measures your blood sugar levels at a time chosen at random.
  • An oral glucose tolerance test measures your blood sugar levels after an overnight fast, and then again after you consume a sugary drink.

How Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Affect the Body

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can lead to serious complications if they are not treated. Over time, high levels of glucose in your blood can damage your internal organs and blood vessels, leading to poor circulation in different parts of your body. Possible complications include:

  • Cardiovascular problems, including heart attack, stroke, and coronary artery disease
  • Kidney damage or kidney failure, which could necessitate dialysis or a kidney transplant
  • Neuropathy (nerve damage) causing pain, numbness, or tingling in the fingers, toes, or limbs
  • Vision loss or blindness
  • Problems with the feet, including sores and infections that could lead to amputation
  • Depression

Treatment

With treatment, it's possible to manage diabetes, keep your blood sugar levels under control, and delay or prevent long-term complications. Type 2 diabetes can be managed by monitoring your blood sugar levels and taking diabetes medication and/or insulin. It's also important to live a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet and staying physically active.

People with type 1 diabetes can manage their disease with insulin injections or an insulin pump, monitoring their blood sugar levels, and counting carbohydrates.

While diabetes is currently a lifelong chronic disease, scientists at the Diabetes Research Institute are aggressively working to develop a cure and restore the body's ability to naturally produce insulin and regulate blood sugar without the need for insulin injections.

The Diabetes Research Institute Foundation's What is Diabetes? brochure has important information about type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and more.
Get more answers to your questions about type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes symptoms and treatments. (In Spanish: ¿Que es La Diabetes?).
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Diabetes Research Institute Foundation's Guide for School Personnel and Childcare Providers
Educate teachers, school personnel and other child care providers about taking care of your child with type 1 diabetes. 
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A Guide for School Personnel and Child Care Providers

Educate teachers, school personnel and other child care providers about taking care of your child with type 1 diabetes. Download this helpful guide now.