Type 1 vs Type 2 Diabetes: What is the Difference?

Some people who HAVE diabetes are not sure which kind they have. It's a surprisingly common question I get. Where they go wrong is assuming that insulin shots have something to do with it, but both forms of diabetes can require insulin. The real difference is actually pretty simple.

The root problem in both conditions is that glucose (sugar) is not getting into the cells where they are needed for energy. Instead, sugar slowly builds up in the blood stream where it causes damage over time.

Type 1

The common patient is a child. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition people are born with. Symptoms emerge early in life, and are aggressive. Rapid weight loss, extreme hunger, thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision, and numbness of limbs.

The body attacks its own pancreas until it can no longer produce any insulin. Insulin is the "key" that normally lets sugar into our cells. Damage to the pancreas is permanent and insulin injections are ALWAYS needed.

Type 2

The typical case is a middle aged adult with excess weight. Type 2 is a chronic disease that usually develops slowly over time. It is often caused by a combination of two problems. First of all, the pancreas may be producing less insulin than it should, but still some. Secondly, cells just aren’t responding to insulin properly, and won’t let sugar into the cells.

Type 2 is usually detected early enough that it can be managed with lifestyle alone. Many use pills to control their blood sugars. Diabetes is a progressive disease, and more and more medications may be needed over time. For some people, pills just aren’t effective enough, and they start insulin injections.

The severity of type 2 diabetes depends on genetics, how early it was detected, and lifestyle changes. If somebody continues to eat poorly, stay sedentary, and gain weight, their condition will deteriorate more quickly.

Okay it's not THAT simple...

These are only the most typical cases. Diabetes is very complex and there are less common forms of it. People may be born with Type 1 but don’t see symptoms until adulthood. Some people develop Type 2 during childhood. Not everyone who develops Type 2 is overweight either.

You now know more about diabetes than most people, congratulations! Have more questions? Let me know so I can include it in a diabetes FAQ in a future post.

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