Differences between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Differences between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

While type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes both are the result of elevated blood sugar levels, they are not the same disease and are treated differently.  In type 1 diabetes, the problem is related to the amount of insulin in the body and, in type 2 diabetes, the problem is that, even though there is plenty of insulin around, the cells of the body are resistant to it so the glucose in the bloodstream is elevated.  Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics have elevated blood sugar levels and complications of the disease.

Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1 diabetes.  While there are 26 million Americans with diabetes, only 5 percent of the time is the diabetes of type 1, while 95 percent of diabetics suffer from type 2 diabetes.

Causes of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes mellitus is usually a disease that affects younger individuals.  It is an autoimmune disease in which the antibodies produced by the diabetic patient are directed toward the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.  This means the insulin levels are very low and blood sugar levels are very high.

causes of diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, the insulin levels are normal or even higher than normal.  The basic problem in type 2 diabetes is that the cells, which use glucose for cellular metabolism, are resistant to insulin putting the glucose into the cells, resulting in high circulating blood glucose levels.

No one knows the exact cause behind type 1 diabetes.  There may be a genetic defect along with an environmental trigger that causes the disease.  In type 2 diabetes, there are many causes that play a role in getting the disease.  While there may be some genetic basis for the disease, things like obesity, eating a poor diet, ethnicity, and obesity also play a role.

Age at Onset of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes mellitus is usually first seen in childhood or the teenage years.  Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, isn’t seen until a person is past 40 years of age.  Interestingly, because of the poor lifestyle habits of young people (who are also more obese than they have ever been before), type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed in young people as well.

Effects of Diabetes on the Body

As mentioned, type 1 diabetics don’t make enough insulin so the blood glucose levels rise and the cells are deprived of glucose necessary for cellular metabolism.  This results in tiredness, excess thirst, and an increase in appetite.  If the diabetes is left untreated, there can be complications of the disease, such as nerve damage, damage to internal organs, and damage to the blood vessels, especially those leading to the heart and brain.

Type 2 diabetics can have the same complications as type 1 diabetes but the complications tend to occur at a later age and aren’t as severe as they may be in type 1 diabetes.  As type 2 diabetes progresses, the pancreas makes less insulin so that insulin may have to be supplemented.  The rate of complications of diabetes goes up when this happens.

Differences in Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes

The symptoms seen in type 1 diabetes tend to come on quite quickly as the blood sugar levels are more suddenly elevated when compared to type 2 diabetic patients.   Common symptoms of type 1 diabetes are weight loss, increased urination, tiredness, hunger, thirst, blurry vision, and numbness or burning in the feet.  If the blood sugar is extremely high, there can be dry skin, nausea, increased respiratory rate, and nausea.  Coma can occur if the diabetic goes into diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a severe complication of high glucose levels.

symptoms of diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, there are often no symptoms of the disease until the individual has had the disease for several years.  Even without symptoms, the type 2 diabetic suffers from end organ damage and can eventually have the same symptoms as type 1 diabetics. While the symptoms are similar, they don’t come on as quickly as those who have type 1 diabetes.

Diagnosis of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Both types of diabetes are diagnosed in exactly the same way.  A fasting blood sugar of greater than 125 mg/dL, an abnormal hemoglobin A1c level, and an abnormal glucose tolerance test (in which a sugary beverage is given to the diabetic patient and blood sugar levels are measured) can all diagnose type 1 and type 2 diabetes.   Type 1 diabetes can be confirmed by doing an antibody titer for the antibodies that attack the pancreatic cells that make insulin.  These types of antibodies are rarely found in type 2 diabetes but are always found in type 1 diabetes.

Treatment Differences between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

There are differences in the way type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are treated.  Because type 1 diabetics have no insulin, the basic treatment is to provide injections of insulin that make up for the insulin not produced by the type 1 diabetic.

In type 2 diabetes, the problem isn’t usually one of low insulin levels.  The treatment is based on giving medications that increase insulin production and improve insulin sensitivity. In some cases, type 2 diabetic patients are prescribed insulin because the pancreas eventually gives out and doesn’t produce enough insulin. Lifestyle changes are good for both types of diabetes; however, it is more probable that lifestyle changes alone can treat type 2 diabetes than type 1 diabetes.

Complications of Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes

Regardless of the type of diabetes a person has, as long as the blood sugar levels are increased, there will be complications.  Common complications of either type of diabetes include peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage), kidney failure, diabetic retinopathy (blood vessel damage to the eyes), and heart disease.  Skin infections are common in both types of diabetes and the risk for heart disease is double that of those who do not have diabetes.

Prevention of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

There is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes.  There is research ongoing intended to do just that but nothing has been found.  In type 2 diabetes, there is no cure but the onset and progress of the disease can be slowed by eating healthy, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight.


What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes? http://www.everydayhealth.com/diabetes/difference-between-type-1-type-2-diabetes.aspx

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