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    Diabetes
    1234 · 20 min read

    What's the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

    When talking about diabetes (medically known as Diabetes Mellitus), it’s important to distinguish whether you are talking about type 1 or 2. The easiest way in which most people summarise the difference between the two is that type 1 is usually genetic, whereas type 2 is usually influenced by lifestyle factors (like being overweight). However the differences go much further than that.

    Key Takeaways:

    Causes of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes:

    Type 1 Diabetes:

    • An autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own pancreas cells, leading to a lack of insulin production. It is often genetic but can be triggered by other factors such as viruses.

    Type 2 Diabetes:

    • Not an autoimmune disease. It results from the body's inability to respond to insulin or produce enough of it, often due to lifestyle factors like poor diet, lack of exercise, and being overweight. There is also a genetic predisposition.

    Symptoms and Diagnosis:

    Symptoms:

    • Both types of diabetes share symptoms like increased thirst, frequent urination, and blurred vision. However, Type 1 symptoms appear suddenly and are severe, whereas Type 2 symptoms develop gradually and can be subtle.

    Diagnosis:

    • Type 1 is usually diagnosed quickly, often in childhood, due to the severity of symptoms. Type 2 is typically diagnosed later in life and can take time due to its slow-developing nature.

    Treatment Approaches:

    Type 1 Diabetes:

    • Requires insulin injections due to the body's inability to produce insulin. Management involves balancing insulin intake with food and physical activity.

    Type 2 Diabetes:

    • Often managed with lifestyle changes, oral medications like Metformin, and injectable medications such as Ozempic and Mounjaro. Regular monitoring and management are essential to avoid complications related to high blood sugar.

    What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

    Below we provide a simple explanation of the key differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes:

    Type 1 Diabetes

    Type 2 Diabetes

    CausesThe body attacks cells in the pancreas, stopping insulin production.The body can't make enough insulin, or it doesn't work properly.
    Risk FactorsUnknown causes, but family history slightly increases risk.Age, family history, ethnicity, waist size, and obesity or being overweight.
    SymptomsSymptoms appear quickly.Symptoms develop slowly and can be easy to miss.
    ManagementManaged with insulin, balancing carbohydrates, being active, eating healthily, and regular health checks.Sometimes managed without insulin or medication; support, healthy eating, activity, and regular health checks help.
    Cure and PreventionNo cure currently, but research is ongoing.No cure, but can often be prevented and put into remission.

    Video: What do people in the UK think are the key differences between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

    In the video below by Diabetes.co.uk, they asked UK residents from Coventry and Birmingham about whether they know the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. See what people had to say for yourself:

    Causes

    Type 1 Diabetes Causes

    Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition and an autoimmune disease, where the body attacks its own cells with antibodies. There are a number of different autoimmune diseases where the body does the same thing, but in type 1 diabetes, it attacks the cells of the pancreas. The pancreas then becomes damaged and unable to produce insulin, which the body needs in order to utilise the sugar you consume and stop the levels in your blood from getting too high.

    A stethoscope on a piece of paper that has the word "diabetes" on it.

    The actual reason for developing this autoimmune disease in the first place is not definitive. Some research suggests that it’s a genetic predisposition, that some people are genetically more likely to develop type 1 diabetes (NIH NIDDK, 2016), while other ideas include viruses triggering the disease or faulty cells in the pancreas.

    Type 2 Diabetes Causes

    Type 2 diabetes is quite different as it is not an autoimmune disease at all. The reason that the two types are lumped together under one “umbrella” condition is because both affect your insulin, and therefore your blood sugar levels. Rather than depleting insulin due to your body attacking its own pancreas, type 2 diabetes is characterised as losing the ability to respond to insulin or by not being able to produce enough.

    When the body starts to build an insulin resistance, your body must then produce more of it to try and maintain its usual effect. As the cells in your pancreas work too hard to produce more insulin, they can become damaged and this can diminish insulin production.

    Type 2 diabetes, for the most part, can be avoided, as it’s often triggered by a number of lifestyle factors (NHS, 2023). Eating foods that are high in fat and low in fibre, not getting enough exercise and being overweight or obese can all cause type 2 diabetes, although there does still seem to be a genetic predisposition associated with the disease. This means that some people are more likely than others to develop it, but if you do have the gene but eat a healthy diet and stay physically active then you still may never become a type 2 diabetes sufferer.

    A bowl of fruits and vegetables

    Symptoms

    Symptoms of the two different kinds of diabetes can be very much the same, with common ones including increased thirst, blurred vision and frequent urination (Mayo Clinic, 2024).

    The difference comes, though, in how the symptoms develop.

    With type 1 diabetes, the symptoms tend to come on very suddenly and can be quite severe, while symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be very subtle. Sometimes even so subtle and slow-developing that people live with type 2 diabetes for years without even noticing.

    Diagnosis

    Because of the way in which the symptoms appear, the diagnosis for the two types of diabetes can differ too.

    Diagnosing Type 1 Diabetes

    Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed pretty quickly because of the severity of symptoms, and it often begins during childhood.

    Diagnosing Type 2 Diabetes

    Type 2 on the other hand, usually develops later in life and can take a while to diagnose. The lifestyle factors involved in causing type 2 diabetes mean that it’s uncommon for people under the age of 30 to develop it.

    A diabetes finger prick test

    Treatment

    When it comes to diabetes, there is not a blanket way in which it can be treated. Because the two types are so different, the treatments have to be as well.

    Type 1 Diabetes Treatment

    Type 1 diabetes sufferers are entirely insulin-dependant, due to their bodies repeatedly attacking their pancreas cells. Therefore, treatment for the condition involves administering insulin by injecting it into the skin to reach the fatty tissue below the surface.

    Managing type 1 diabetes is a careful balancing act between insulin injections, food and physical activity. If your blood sugar levels are too high then you risk damage to the blood vessels in your eyes, nerves and kidneys. If, however, you are administering too much insulin without balancing this with your sugar intake then you may experience tingling lips, increased sweating or fainting.

    Type 2 Diabetes Treatment

    People with type 2 diabetes are not usually insulin dependent but do still need to manage the condition carefully in order to lower their risk of other health problems associated with high blood sugar levels (as mentioned above).

    Type-2 diabetes treatment can come in various forms, such as oral tablets (Metformin) and injection pens (Ozempic, Mounjaro). You can buy diabetes medicine from UK Meds.

    Medically Reviewed by:
    Dr. Alexis Missick MBChB. MRCGP
    GMC reference no: 7151419
    LinkedIn
    Website

    Sources

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    Blog author

    Scott Weaver

    Scott is an experienced and professional content writer who works exclusively for UK Meds.

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