Type 1 Diabetes vs Type 2

National Diabetes Month is coming to a close. Unfortunately, diabetes isn’t going away any time soon. According to the American Diabetes Association, 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each year. And 86 million people in the United States with prediabetes are headed towards developing Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes isn’t unique to the United States: It’s a global issue, affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Many people describe diabetes as being a pandemic.


When people are diagnosed with diabetes, they often have many questions, especially about the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. There are, in fact, multiple different forms of diabetes (too many to get into in this week’s posting!), but the more common forms are Type 1 and Type 2. Let’s take a look at these this week and hopefully clear up any confusion or questions you may have.

Type 1 diabetes
Name: Type 1 diabetes was formerly known as “juvenile diabetes” and “insulin-dependent diabetes.” These terms are inaccurate and obsolete. We know that it’s not just “juveniles” who get Type 1 diabetes — adults get Type 1, too, and many people who have Type 2 diabetes must take insulin. So, Type 1 diabetes is the correct term.

Definition: Type 1 diabetes (also known as Type 1 diabetes mellutis, or T1DM) is an autoimmune condition. This means that the body’s immune system turns on itself; in this case, it attacks the beta cells of the pancreas. These are the cells that produce insulin. As a result, the pancreas produces very little, if any, insulin.

Causes: Scientists don’t exactly know what causes Type 1 diabetes. However, it’s likely that genetics and environmental factors, such as certain types of viruses, play a role.

Prevalence: Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5% to 10% of diabetes cases. It’s more commonly diagnosed in people under the age of 20, but it can occur at any age. Type 1 diabetes is also relatively uncommon, affecting roughly 1 in 250 Americans. It’s more common in whites than in African-Americans and Latinos, but it equally affects men and women.

Diagnosis: A high blood sugar and, often, the presence of ketones (by-products of fat breakdown), indicate Type 1 diabetes. A person may present with symptoms of dehydration, weight loss, extreme thirst, and frequent urination. To make the diagnosis, a physician may order an HbA1c test (which measures blood sugar control over the previous 2–3 months), fasting blood sugar test, or random blood sugar test. A random blood sugar level of 200 mg/dl or higher, fasting blood sugar of 126 mg/dl or higher, or an HbA1c result of 6.5% or higher indicates diabetes. The doctor may also check C-peptide levels (C-peptide is a by-product of the creation of insulin in the pancreas; a low level usually indicates Type 1 diabetes), along with antibody tests.

Treatment: There’s no cure for Type 1 diabetes. Treatment consists of infusing insulin with a syringe, insulin pen, or insulin pump. There’s also an ultra-rapid-acting inhalable form of insulin, but someone with Type 1 diabetes still needs to inject a long-acting insulin, as well. At this time, there’s no oral form of insulin available.

Blood glucose monitoring: Most people with Type 1 diabetes need to check their blood sugars, at a minimum, four times a day, but six to ten times a day is more likely. Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) is also an option for those with Type 1 diabetes, but it doesn’t replace finger sticks using a blood glucose meter.

Lifestyle management: A healthy eating plan that consists of counting and controlling carbohydrate intake is generally a mainstay for those with Type 1 diabetes. If desired, a person can base meal-time insulin doses on how much carb they choose to eat at a meal. Physical activity is encouraged, but may require adjustments to insulin doses and/or carb intake to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Type 2 diabetes
Name: Type 2 diabetes (also known as Type 2 diabetes mellitus or T2DM) was formerly known as “adult-onset diabetes” and “non-insulin-dependent diabetes.” These two terms are incorrect, as children and teens also get Type 2 diabetes, and, as previously mentioned, many people with Type 2 diabetes use insulin.

Definition: Type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune condition. Rather, it’s a chronic condition that affects how the body uses glucose. Type 2 diabetes generally results in part from insulin resistance, which means that the body has difficulty using insulin, along with abnormal insulin secretion. As a result, glucose builds up in the bloodstream. Some people label Type 2 diabetes as being “not as serious” as Type 1 diabetes; however, both forms of diabetes are equally serious as they can both lead to complications, including heart disease, eye disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage.

Causes: A combination of genetics and lifestyle factors can cause Type 2 diabetes by causing insulin resistance. If your parents or siblings have Type 2 diabetes, your chances of getting it are increased. In addition, being overweight, not doing enough physical activity, and eating an unhealthful diet of processed and sugary foods can raise your risk.

Prevalence: Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of diabetes, accounting for 90% to 95% of cases. It can run in the family, and certain ethnic groups have a higher risk, including African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Also, women who have gestational diabetes have a higher risk of getting Type 2 diabetes within 5 to 10 years. According to current projections, by 2050, one in three adults in the U.S. will have Type 2 diabetes, and more than 5,000 children and teens are diagnosed with this condition every year.

Diagnosis: Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed with a blood test. This may be a random blood sugar test, fasting blood sugar test, oral glucose tolerance test, or HbA1c test. A random blood sugar level of 200 mg/dl or higher, fasting blood sugar of 126 mg/dl or higher, oral glucose tolerance test result of 200 mg/dl or higher after two hours, or an HbA1c result of 6.5% or higher indicates diabetes. The tests may be repeated before confirming a diagnosis. Some people may have symptoms, such as thirst and increased urination, but many people have no symptoms. It’s important to get checked regularly for Type 2 diabetes, especially if you are at high risk.

Treatment: As with Type 1 diabetes, there is no cure for Type 2 diabetes. Bariatric surgery can put Type 2 diabetes into remission, but it’s not a cure. This condition can be managed in a number of ways, including lifestyle measures (weight loss, controlling carb intake, and physical activity), diabetes pills and non-insulin injectable medications, and insulin. Type 2 diabetes tends to change over time, which usually means that more medication, including insulin, is needed to keep blood glucose levels in a safe range.

Blood glucose monitoring: Not everyone with Type 2 diabetes checks their blood sugars, but checking your blood sugar is a good thing to do, as it gives you and your doctor helpful information to see how your diabetes is doing and to adjust your treatment plan, if needed. The frequency of checking depends on how your diabetes is treated and how well it’s managed. Talk with your doctor about whether checking your blood sugars would be helpful for you.

Lifestyle management: As I mentioned above, eating a healthy meal plan that controls (but doesn’t cut out) carbohydrate, losing some weight, and becoming and staying active are important steps to fit into your lifestyle. Medication may be one part of your treatment plan, but it works hand-in-hand with these lifestyle measures.

There’s certainly a lot to having either form of diabetes, and it’s hard to do this on your own. Seek out support and information from your health-care team, online communities, and credible websites like this one to educate yourself, stay informed, and keep abreast of new developments and therapies.

No matter how hard we work to manage our diabetes, there will always be highs and lows, says Amy Mercer. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to read more.

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    This is the way it was explained to me by a former health care “professional”: Type 1 is the kind that poor helpless children are born with. They are heroes for persevering despite their horrific disease. Type 2 is the kind fat, lazy slobs get as punishment for their lifestyle choices. She was a proponent of re-naming Type 1 so the “heroes” wouldn’t be stigmatized along with the “slobs.”
    Coming from a family where nearly everyone develops type 2 as they age, regardless of their “lifestyle choices” I immediately sought out a provider with a better understanding of genetics and less of a penchant for blaming and shaming.
    I’m pleased to see an objective article explaining the difference between the two conditions; one that goes beyond categorizing them a “the good kind and the bad kind.”

  • acampbell

    Thanks, Chris. I stand corrected!

  • Ted

    Oversimplification for all, but I believe it’s true for me: processed foods, the USDA food pyramid and white flour are my enemies…but the worst enemy of all…something I will forevermore call “poison” is…SUGAR. There’s just no rational need for it. It is without ANY nutritional value, WHATSOEVER. If anyone reading this can think of ONE…just ONE…please let me know.

    • QuaDead _

      sugar does not CAUSE diabetes directly.

    • Processed carbohydrates, saturated fats, high fructose corn syrup and inactivity create conditions for this metabolic disorder wrongly named “type 2”, not sugar. “T2” needs to be renamed as a metabolic disorder, it is not true diabetes which is an autoimmune disorder, rather it is a recent condition created by a gluttonous and lazy western lifestyle.

    • aminia

      i believe its the animal fat ! clogging your pores and not alowing your cells to break down the sugar in your body and keeping it in the blood stream. cut out some red meat from your diet as well. your body should be able to break down all sugars. moderation is key ! added sugars are scary if you eat lots of animal fat.