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Type 1 Vs. Type 2 Diabetes: What’s the Difference?

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

Testing for type 1 or type 2 diabetes

While both type 1 and type 2 diabetes present problems with insulin functionality, these diseases are different in many ways. 

Type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) can develop at any age and is driven by the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin due to an autoimmune response. On the other hand, type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) results from insulin resistance and occurs gradually, typically showing at a later age than type 1. 

In this type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes article, we dive deeper into the differences between these two diseases, including their unique causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevalence.

Causes

Type 1 DiabetesType 2 Diabetes
An autoimmune reaction that destroys pancreatic cells, resulting in the suppression of insulin production(1)Impaired release of insulin from the pancreas, the inability of the body to use the secreted insulin, or both(2)

When understanding type 2 diabetes vs type 1, you’ll find the key difference in what’s causing each condition. Type 2 diabetes is notorious for being one of the most common chronic diseases as far as metabolic processes go.

Type 2 diabetes stems from the body’s impaired capacity to produce or use insulin. This problem results from a combination of lifestyle factors and family history. For example, if you are genetically predisposed to have T2DM and you indulge in excessive sweets and high-sugar foods, your chances of developing type 2 diabetes increase and speed up.

With type 1 diabetes, however, the primary driving force is autoimmunity(3). This means you have an autoimmune problem that destroys your pancreatic cells by mistake, leading to their diminished function to secrete insulin.

What Is Insulin? All nutrients entering the body are processed for use and storage. In the case of sugar or glucose, it’s the insulin hormone that regulates its metabolism. If insulin is not released or utilized properly, it can lead to high sugar levels in the blood.  

Signs and Symptoms 

Type 1 DiabetesType 2 Diabetes
Frequent urinationRecurring thirst and hungerFatigue Blurry visionDry mouth and skinSlow healing of wounds and soresNumbness or prickling in the hands and feet

In most cases, you won’t see any difference in type 1 diabetes vs. type 2 symptoms. After all, both forms of diabetes tackle a similar issue as a result of insulin secretion/usage impairment. Naturally, we’re referring to the elevated levels of sugar in the blood, which is essentially the earmark for diabetes.

Want to expand your understanding of the impacts of diabetes on your health? Here are some free guides you can check out. 

Diagnosis

As type 1 and type 2 diabetes share similar symptoms, most notably the increased glucose in the blood, both are diagnosed typically through the same lab tests. 

Blood tests like hemoglobin A1c, serum glucose, and insulin, free and total blood tests have been one of the standard lab work for diabetes. These tests typically require fasting to ensure the accuracy of the results.

Pro tip: Learn how to prepare and fast before a blood test. If you’re anxious about the lab procedure, we have 12 tips to help you during blood extraction

Treatment

The treatment for type 1 vs type 2 diabetes is different in that type 1 diabetes requires strict insulin replacement following continuous regulation. For people with type 1 diabetes, insulin therapy is lifelong, given that their pancreatic cells are incapable of producing the hormone naturally. In most cases, daily shots of insulin are necessary to regulate their glucose metabolism. 

On the other hand, those with type 2 diabetes may be able to manage the condition through diet modification and lifestyle changes on top of prescribed medications to control blood sugar levels. Naturally, all these will depend on the severity of the condition and other factors your doctor will assess.

A woman injecting insulin

Prevalence

When comparing type 2 vs type 1 diabetes in terms of widespread presence, type 2 diabetes remains the more common in the US and worldwide. 

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is rampant among adult Americans. It affects alarmingly 38 million individuals(4) in the US and is more common among those aged 45 and above. In 2021, the record of diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes was a whopping 536.6 million worldwide(5), with a projection of having these numbers increased to 783.2 million people by 2045.  

On the other hand, type 1 diabetes affects 8.4 million individuals(6) globally, of whom 18% are below the age of 20 and 64% are over 20 to 59 years old. In the US, adult patients diagnosed with the condition are 1.3 million(7)

It comes as no surprise that type 2 diabetes is more prevalent than type 1 because the former is driven by a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors. Diet plays a crucial role in increasing your risk for the disease, whereas type 1 diabetes is highly influenced by family history. 

It is also crucial to underscore that type 1 diabetes can impact young people, which is why it is also called juvenile diabetes. It is rare to have type 2 diabetes at such a young age, considering this condition develops over a longer time.   

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes?

Through an antibody blood test, doctors can be closer to identifying if the diabetes is type 1 or type 2. It will confirm type 1 diabetes as it is driven by autoimmune activity and will appear normal in the case of type 2 diabetes. This particular test is typically performed after the standard diabetes profile tests, including the hemoglobin A1C test. 

Which is more serious, diabetes type 1 or diabetes type 2?

Type 1 diabetes is deemed more serious and far worse than type 2 diabetes because you will have to replenish insulin daily, and missing your schedule can be fatal. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 2 diabetes does not develop gradually since it’s an autoimmune disease. Plus, it can emerge to people as young as four years old. It has no cure and demands permanent management. 

Is type 1 diabetes the same as diabetes insipidus?

No, type 1 diabetes is different from diabetes insipidus. Type 1 diabetes falls under diabetes mellitus, which involves issues in insulin function. Meanwhile, diabetes insipidus develops as a result of problems with the antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which controls fluid movement in the body. This disease forces you to feel extreme thirst and urinate a lot. 

The Bottom Line

Understanding the difference between type 1 vs type 2 diabetes keeps you informed about potential complications and appropriate treatment. If you experience any symptoms associated with diabetes, consult your doctor immediately, especially if you are at risk of developing the disease. Through proper medical assessment, including blood tests for diabetes, you’ll get a hold of a more tailored management plan for regulating your insulin and blood glucose levels. 

Sources:

1 Syed FZ. Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. Ann Intern Med. 2022 Mar;175(3): ITC33-ITC48. doi: 10.7326/AITC202203150. Epub 2022 Mar 8. PMID: 35254878.

2 Galicia-Garcia U, Benito-Vicente A, Jebari S, Larrea-Sebal A, Siddiqi H, Uribe KB, Ostolaza H, Martín C. Pathophysiology of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Aug 30;21(17):6275. doi: 10.3390/ijms21176275. PMID: 32872570; PMCID: PMC7503727.

3 Kawasaki E. Type 1 diabetes and autoimmunity. Clin Pediatr Endocrinol. 2014 Oct;23(4):99-105. doi: 10.1297/cpe.23.99. Epub 2014 Nov 6. PMID: 25374439; PMCID: PMC4219937.

4 Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (2023, April 18). Type 2 Diabetes. CDC. Retrieved January 21, 2024, from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/type2.html

5 Yan, Y., Wu, T., Zhang, M. et al. Prevalence, awareness and control of type 2 diabetes mellitus and risk factors in Chinese elderly population. BMC Public Health 22, 1382 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-13759-9

6 Gregory GA, Robinson TIG, Linklater SE, Wang F, Colagiuri S, de Beaufort C, Donaghue KC; International Diabetes Federation Diabetes Atlas Type 1 Diabetes in Adults Special Interest Group; Magliano DJ, Maniam J, Orchard TJ, Rai P, Ogle GD. Global incidence, prevalence, and mortality of type 1 diabetes in 2021 with projection to 2040: a modelling study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2022 Oct;10(10):741-760. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(22)00218-2. Epub 2022 Sep 13. Erratum in: Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2022 Oct 7;: PMID: 36113507.
7 Bullard KM, Cowie CC, Lessem SE, et al. Prevalence of Diagnosed Diabetes in Adults by Diabetes Type — United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:359–361. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6712a2

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