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

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are both chronic (long-term) conditions that cause blood sugar levels to be consistently too high. When blood sugar levels are too high for extended periods, it can cause health complications, like cardiovascular disease and neuropathy (nerve damage).

The Symptoms of Diabetes

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes share similar signs and symptoms, including:

  • Increased thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent infections

Most people who are in the early stages of type 2 diabetes may not have any noticeable symptoms–type 2 diabetes tends to come on slowly, and therefore symptoms can progress slowly. 

People who have type 1 diabetes may notice that symptoms come on quickly and are severe. 

How Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Are Different

Why They Cause High Blood Sugar

With type 1 diabetes, beta cells in the pancreas (cells that make insulin) are damaged and therefore do not make insulin or make very little insulin. Insulin is a hormone that directs cells throughout the body to take in glucose so they can use it for energy. When there is a deficit of insulin, the cells are unable to properly absorb glucose–this results in starved cells and a build-up of glucose in the bloodstream. 

With type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin, but the cells do not respond to it as they should and are therefore unable to absorb glucose effectively. When the body’s cells don’t respond to insulin, this is referred to as insulin-resistance. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to compensate for insulin resistance. However, over time, the pancreas is unable to keep up with the increased demand for insulin. 

Risk Factors

Type 1 diabetes is thought to develop because of an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks itself–more specifically the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Scientists currently believe that a viral infection could trigger the immune response that leads to the onset of type 1 diabetes. 

Type 2 diabetes is thought to develop as a result of certain lifestyle factors. People who are overweight and physically inactive are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. 

Although type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different environmental risk factors, both types of diabetes are thought to be caused, at least in part, by inheriting certain genes.

Prevalence and Typical Age of Onset

Type 1 diabetes affects approximately 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes. Although type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, it typically develops in children and teenagers. 

Type 2 diabetes affects approximately 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes. Although type 2 diabetes can develop at any age, it typically develops in older adults who are 40 years old and older. 

Diabetes Treatment

There is currently no cure for either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Both conditions are treated using lifelong therapies, including diet and lifestyle changes, blood sugar monitoring, and insulin therapy. It’s important for patients to follow their treatment plan as outlined by their diabetes management team. If blood sugar levels aren’t well-controlled, it can lead to serious health complications like kidney damage, cardiovascular disease, and nerve damage.