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

Category: Medical FAQ


Posted on December 9, 2022

Scott is passionate about health and wellness, and enjoys writing on various topic surrounding these fields. Scott lives in Seattle and spends his free time restoring old furniture and playing pickleball with his friends.

difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes

In 2019 (the last available information), over 11% of the population had diabetes. Diabetes is an incredibly common condition in the United States. 

Did you know that there are two types? 

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes differ in their treatment, causes, and risk factors, but how different are they really? We're here to talk about it.

Read on to learn all about the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

What Causes Diabetes?

The cause of diabetes is a bit mysterious regardless of the type. Type 1 and type 2 have different potential causes. Here's a quick breakdown. 

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a condition that someone will develop on their own, usually quite early in life. It's an autoimmune condition. There is no way to prevent someone from developing type 1 diabetes at this time.

The person's body attacks its own cells and it's not yet known why this happens. 

Type 2 Diabetes

People who develop type 2 diabetes have developed a resistance to insulin. This means that even though the body is still producing insulin, the body has "forgotten" how to use it.

When the body "forgets" how to use insulin, the pancreas starts to over-produce it. Glucose begins to accumulate in the bloodstream. 

There are certain lifestyle factors that may contribute to type 2 diabetes (we'll talk more about those later), but because not everyone with those lifestyle factors also gets the condition, it's hard to say what the actual cause is. 

What Are the Risk Factors Associated With Diabetes?

So what about risk factors? Are there any things that you can do (or not do) that may make you more likely to develop diabetes or have a child with diabetes? Here's how the risk factors for the types of diabetes differ.

Type 1 Diabetes

While there's nothing that someone can do to "cause" diabetes, there are a few potential risk factors that may influence whether someone is more likely to develop it. These risk factors are not within a person's control, however.

Technically, age is a risk factor for type 1 diabetes, but not in the way it is with other conditions. The younger someone is, the more likely they are to be diagnosed. In other words, if you've made it to adulthood without showing symptoms, you likely don't have type 1 diabetes (though it isn't impossible). 

Family history is another risk factor. Someone who has a sibling or parent with type 1 diabetes is more likely to have it. A parent with type 2 diabetes should not be a risk factor. 

Type 2 Diabetes

The risk factors for type 2 diabetes are quite different from those with type 1 diabetes. They're also largely under an individual's control.

If someone is overweight due to excess body fat, they're more likely to develop diabetes. Being active more than three times per week may reduce that risk, as a sedentary lifestyle is another risk factor.

If someone has had gestational diabetes or if they've given birth to a baby larger than 9 pounds, they may develop diabetes. Having PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) is also a risk factor.

There is a family risk factor here as well. Someone with a family member with type 2 diabetes may be more likely to develop it on their own, but they will have other risk factors as well. You can not inherit type 2 diabetes.

People over the age of 45 are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than younger people, but there have been more cases of type 2 diabetes among young people over the past few years.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

The symptoms of diabetes are the same regardless of which type someone has.

Frequent urination is a common symptom of diabetes, as is an unquenchable thirst. These are often the first signs that someone has diabetes. 

Intense fatigue and blurry vision can also indicate diabetes. 

If someone is slow to heal minor wounds, it may be a sign that they have diabetes (as it's an autoimmune condition). They may also get infections more often, and those infections may last longer than they would in someone without diabetes. 

How Do You Treat Diabetes? 

Is it possible to treat diabetes? Can you cure it? Let's talk about how diabetes medication and treatment vary between the two types. 

Type 1 Diabetes 

There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes. Once someone has their diagnosis, they should expect to have diabetes forever. Scientists are always researching potential cures, however. 

People with diabetes need to keep track of their blood sugar and give themselves insulin injections. They should be careful about what they eat and drink, but with the injections, living with diabetes isn't too different from living without it. 

Type 2 Diabetes

There's no official cure for type 2 diabetes, but unlike type 1 diabetes, it can go into remission. This happens through lifestyle changes (in this case, weight loss). Patients are more likely to reach remission if they lose weight soon after their diagnosis, but it's still possible even years after the fact.

Doctors may prescribe diabetes medication to help patients keep their condition under control. Patients with type 2 diabetes still need to keep track of their blood sugar. Some people with type 2 diabetes will also need insulin injections, but this isn't always the case.

The best treatment for type 2 diabetes is a healthy diet and exercise plan. 

That's the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Hopefully, this cleared up the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. While these conditions are similar, they differ in their treatment, causes, and risk factors. They're two separate conditions that have the same symptoms and overall impact. 

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