Someone measuring their blood sugar levels.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes involve low insulin and high blood sugar levels.

What Is the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

There are several types of diabetes but type 1 and type 2 are by far the most common. The two conditions have many similarities, so what is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes? Well, despite their similarities they also possess some unique characteristics that are essential to understand. In this article, we discuss the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and how they affect the body.

What Is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder. This means that the immune system does not recognize the body’s healthy tissues and attacks them.
With type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks beta cells in the pancreas. These are cells that produce the hormone insulin. Insulin has a vital role in the body. It facilitates the transport of sugar into cells. This process is crucial as cells need glucose to generate energy.

When the immune system destroys beta cells, they are no longer able to make insulin. As a result, cells cannot take up glucose effectively. Glucose then collects in the blood, leading to hyperglycemia. This is also known as high blood sugar.

Hyperglycemia is dangerous as excess sugar in the blood can damage blood vessels and nerve cells. Therefore, diabetics have these high risks of complications:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Vision loss
  • Peripheral neuropathy

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is similar to type 1 in the manner that it involves low insulin levels and high blood sugar. However, the reason behind it is quite different.

In type 2 diabetes, cells become less receptive to the activity of insulin. This situation is known as insulin resistance. The cause of insulin resistance is uncertain, but it is often associated with obesity and lack of physical exercise.

When the body becomes resistant to insulin, the beta cells produce more of the hormone to compensate. Over time, the extra strain can destroy these cells and prevent them from producing insulin altogether. This leaves patients at risk of hyperglycemia and the same consequences that type 1 diabetics face.

Symptoms of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

The symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are very similar. They include:

  • Needing to urinate more often than usual
  • Extreme thirst
  • Excessive hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Itching skin, especially the genitals
  • Increased risk of yeast infections
  • Slow wound healing
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet

The main difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes symptoms is the speed at which they occur. The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can come on suddenly while type 2 diabetes symptoms happen gradually.

Type 1 diabetes can also cause a condition called ketoacidosis. It happens when the liver makes energy from fat molecules rather than glucose. This process generates ketones. Ketoacidosis is a medical emergency; without treatment, it can lead to coma or death.

The symptoms of ketoacidosis include:

  • Fruity-smelling breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dry mouth

Diabetics experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

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What Causes Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

We know that type 1 and type 2 diabetes occur due to problems with how the body uses insulin. However, the underlying reasons for why this happens are unclear.

Type 1 diabetes is especially mysterious as nobody fully understands what triggers autoimmune disorders. There appears to be a genetic factor involved, as type 1 diabetes tends to run in families. Some experts also believe that childhood infections, such as mumps or rubella, could play a role.

Type 2 diabetes is often associated with increased body weight. However, there are exceptions and not everyone with type 2 diabetes is overweight. Other risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Genetics
  • Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Diet
  • Activity levels
  • Smoking

One of the biggest differences between type 1 and 2 diabetes is the age at which they occur. Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed more often in children and young adults. On the other hand, type 2 diabetes tends to affect people over 40.

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Treatments

All diabetics need to pay attention to their diets. Consuming too much sugar can cause serious problems. It is also important to monitor blood glucose levels throughout the day in case they become too high. However, there are differences in the treatment options available for type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Since people with type 1 diabetes cannot make any insulin, the only treatment is insulin replacement therapy. It involves injecting the hormone into the body at various times throughout the day. Some people have a special pump to help them do this.

People with type 2 diabetes continue to make insulin in the early stages of the disease. Therefore, they may be able to control their blood sugar in alternative ways.

For some people, eating a healthy diet and increasing physical activity may be enough. However, many people need to start taking medication sooner or later. Antidiabetic drugs like metformin work by improving the way that cells respond to insulin and need to be taken every day.

If type 2 diabetes advances to a stage where the pancreas stops producing any hormones, insulin therapy will be necessary. The main risk of injecting insulin is that high doses can cause the blood sugar to fall too low (hypoglycemia). This has its own dangers and people who use insulin should carry a sugary snack or glucagon injection in case they need to quickly raise their blood glucose.

Prevention of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Unfortunately, there is currently no way of preventing type 1 diabetes. However, it is possible to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by following a healthy lifestyle. Some ways to possibly prevent type 2 diabetes include:

  • Eating the right foods
  • Staying active
  • Maintaining an optimal body weight
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Not smoking

Type 1 and type 2 diabetics should also follow these guidelines every day to stay healthy and reduce the risk of complications.