Someone monitoring their diabetes
Healthy Living

Breaking Down Diabetes: Type 1 vs. Type 2

Nov 8 2022

It’s estimated that 1.6 million Americans have type 1 diabetes. However, about 90 to 95 percent of the 34 million Americans who have diabetes have type 2 diabetes.

So, how do you get diabetes and how can you manage the disease? To start answering these questions, it helps to understand the differences between these two most common types of diabetes.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes does not allow the body to produce any insulin to help blood sugar feed cells. Think of it as a faucet that’s shut off.

One of the most common questions about the disease is which diabetes is genetic. It’s commonly thought that type 1 diabetes is possibly related to genetics or exposure to environmental factors, but scientists don’t know this for sure yet. If you have type 1 diabetes, your immune system begins to accidentally destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Type 1 diabetes was once known as juvenile diabetes because it occurs mostly in children. But adults can also develop type 1 diabetes.

Health problems caused by type 1 diabetes

If type 1 diabetes is left untreated, it will cause major health complications and even death. Maintaining a normal blood sugar level greatly reduces health problems of type 1 diabetes, such as these three serious conditions:

  • Catastrophic kidney failure
  • Severe nerve damage or loss of feeling in your limbs
  • Significant disease of the heart and blood vessels

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes does not allow the body to respond well to the insulin the body makes. Think of it as a faucet that’s faulty or clogged.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you are still producing insulin. However, your body is unable to use the insulin effectively. That means glucose is building up in your blood because these nutrients can’t go into your cells.

People can develop type 2 diabetes at any age and can be the result of years of poor eating habits and inactivity. Many other risk factors can contribute to the onset of type 2 diabetes, including:

  • Being 45 years old or older
  • Being African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, American Indian or Pacific Islander
  • Having a family history of any diabetes
  • Smoking

Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in children and younger adults. This is likely due to the popularity of poor quality processed food and the obesity epidemic in the United States.

Health problems caused by type 2 diabetes

If left untreated, type 2 diabetes can cause great damage to the body. Complications caused by type 2 diabetes may develop slowly but can become life-threatening overtime. Conditions caused by unchecked type 2 diabetes include, but are not limited to:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Eye disease, such as cataracts and glaucoma, possibly leading to blindness
  • Hearing problems
  • Slow healing of cuts and infections, possibly leading to amputation of severely damaged toes, feet or legs

The similar symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes symptoms are similar. However, with type 1 diabetes, symptoms come on quickly. With type 2 diabetes, you probably won’t experience any noticeable symptoms during the prediabetes period. However, you will slowly begin to feel symptoms.

The list of symptoms for both types of diabetes includes:

  • Feeling extremely tired
  • Feeling overly thirsty and hungry
  • Having blurry vision
  • Having cuts, sores and infections that take a long time to heal
  • Making more trips to the bathroom to urinate

With type 1 diabetes, you’ll likely also lose weight without trying. You may feel irritable and have other mood changes, too. For type 2 diabetes, you might have tingling, pain or numbness in your hands and feet.

Treatments for diabetes

If you think you might have diabetes, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider right away. A series of blood tests will diagnose both types of diabetes. Both types of diabetes also require basic treatment and nutritional management but the treatments differ.

The treatment for type 1 diabetes includes injecting insulin several times a day to keep your blood sugar levels at a healthy range. Eating lower carb foods and exercising will also help you stay healthy.

The treatment for type 2 diabetes focuses on a dramatic change in eating and exercise habits. Medications for type 2 diabetes are available, and more options are in development.

Learn more about the endocrinology services we offer at Bon Secours.

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