Despite sharing a name, type 1 and type 2 diabetes are quite different. Understanding the key differences in type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes is critical for research into finding a way to cure, treat and prevent diabetes, but also for caring for someone with diabetes and managing your own diabetes. How these diseases begin, how they affect the body and how they are treated are all quite different.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is the result of the human immune system mistaking the body’s beta cells, which produce insulin, for foreign cells and causing their destruction. Insulin is a protein that allows the transport of sugar into cells to provide energy. When sugar can’t get from the blood into the cells, the cells have no access to the glucose they need and cannot function correctly. The composition of our blood also gets off balance, with high blood sugar levels leading to detrimental effects on other organs of the body.
Injecting synthetic insulin solves this problem because it keeps blood glucose levels in the right range and helps glucose reach our cells.
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
Although type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1, the causes for it aren’t fully understood. What doctors and scientists do know is that excess weight, inactivity, age and genetic makeup contribute to development of the disease.
Patients with type 2 diabetes make insulin, but the cells in the body cannot respond to it adequately so they cannot take up glucose. Later on, especially when treatment fails, type 2 diabetes is aggravated by exhausted beta cells, decreasing their insulin production resulting in further increases in blood sugar levels. Since beta cells aren’t killed off in type 2 diabetes, at least initially, blood sugar levels often become elevated at a slower rate than with type 1 diabetes. This means that someone can have high blood sugar for quite sometime without realizing it, and may only find out they have type 2 diabetes when complications of diabetes appear, such as damage to eyes, the kidney and nerves. Additionally, this means that treatment for type 2 diabetes varies from case to case. While insulin therapy is needed for some people with type 2 diabetes, others are able to use alternative medications. Lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise have also been known to help type 2 diabetes and are always recommended for those with the disease.
Chart: What are the Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes
|Often diagnosed in children and young adults||Usually diagnosed in adults|
|Caused by an autoimmune response against insulin-producing beta cells||Cause is unknown, but related to weight, age, inactivity and genetics|
|Treatment must include insulin, as the body no longer produces it||Treatment usually includes some combination of medications, diet, exercise and insulin|
Similarities Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
Both the cause and treatment for type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are clearly very different. However, there are some similarities between the two. For example, even though diet and exercise are key parts to managing type 2 diabetes, good diet and adequate exercise are also important for those with type 1 diabetes because lower weight and increased activity can help increase insulin sensitivity, which helps control blood sugar. Long-term complications arising from increased blood sugar levels are common to both forms of disease and include neuropathy (nerve damage), retinopathy (eye damage) and nephropathy (kidney damage). Cardiovascular complications lead to heart attacks while insufficient delivery to blood in the extremities combined with nerve damage and impaired wound healing capacity leads to lower extremity amputations.
Above all, it’s important to keep in mind just how different these two diseases are, and how much we still have to learn about them. To stay up-to- date on type 1 diabetes research and learn more about managing and living with diabetes, sign up for our newsletter.
If you are looking for information regarding Type 2 Diabetes, we highly recommend looking at Type 2 Digest.