The main difference between the type 1 and type 2 diabetes is that type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition that often shows up early in life, and type 2 is mainly lifestyle-related and develops over time. With type 1 diabetes, your immune system is attacking and destroying the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas.
Although type 1 and type 2 diabetes both have things in common, there are lots of differences. Like what causes them, who they affect, and how you should manage them.
For a start, type 1 affects 8% of everyone with diabetes. While type 2 diabetes affects about 90%.
Some people get confused between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. This can mean you have to explain that what works for one type doesn't work for the other, and that there are different causes.
The main thing to remember is that both are as serious as each other. Having high blood glucose (or sugar) levels can lead to serious health complications, no matter whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. So if you have either condition, you need to take the right steps to manage it.
Type 1 and type 2 differences
Below is a guide to some of the main differences between type 1 and type 2.
Your body attacks the cells in your pancreas which means it cannot make any insulin.
Your body is unable to make enough insulin or the insulin you do make doesn’t work properly.
We don’t currently know what causes type 1 diabetes.
We know some things can put you at risk of having type 2 like weight and ethnicity.
The symptoms for type 1 appear more quickly.
Type 2 symptoms can be easier to miss because they appear more slowly.
Type 1 is managed by taking insulin to control your blood sugar.
You can manage type 2 diabetes in more ways than type 1. These include through medication, exercise and diet. People with type 2 can also be prescribed insulin.
Currently there is no cure for type 1 but research continues.
Type 2 cannot be cured but there is evidence to say in many cases it can be prevented and put into remission.
If you have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it means you have too much glucose (a type of sugar) in your blood. This is the same for both types. But the difference between them is how this happens.
If you have type 1 diabetes, it means you have an autoimmune condition. This means your body has attacked and destroyed the cells that make a hormone called insulin. So you can’t make insulin anymore.
We all need insulin as it helps take the glucose from our blood into our body’s cells. We then use this glucose for energy. Without insulin, the glucose level in your blood gets too high.
Type 2 diabetes is different. If you’ve got type 2, either your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or your insulin doesn’t work properly. This is known as insulin resistance. Like type 1, this means the level of glucose in your blood is too high.
We don’t know exactly what causes type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but we do know the different risk factors. So we know why you might be likely to get one type over the other. Even though we know this, it’s good to remember these aren’t set in stone.
A big difference between the two is that type 1 isn’t affected by your lifestyle. Or your weight. That means you can’t affect your risk of developing type 1 by lifestyle changes.
People up to the age of 40 are more likely to be diagnosed with it, especially children. In fact, most children with diabetes have type 1. But, although it’s less common, people over 40 can also be diagnosed with it.
It’s different for type 2 diabetes. We know some things put you at more risk:
- your family history
- ethnic background
- if you’re overweight or obese.
We also know that there are things you can to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Things like eating healthily, being active and maintaining a healthy weight can help you to prevent type 2.
You’re also more likely to get type 2 if you’re over 40. Or if you’re South Asian, if you’re over 25. But type 2 is also becoming more common in younger people. More and more children and young people get diagnosed with type 2 in the UK each year.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes share common symptoms. They are:
- going to the toilet a lot, especially at night
- being really thirsty
- feeling more tired than usual
- losing weight without trying to
- genital itching or thrush
- cuts and wounds take longer to heal
- blurred vision.
But where type 1 and type 2 diabetes are different in symptom is how they appear. Type 1 can often appear quite quickly. That makes them harder to ignore. This is important because symptoms that are ignored can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
But type 2 diabetes can be easier to miss. This is because it develops more slowly, especially in the early stages. That makes it harder to spot the symptoms. That is why it is important to know your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Some people have diabetes and don’t know it. They can have it for up to 10 years without knowing.
Managing and treating your diabetes is so important. This is because it’ll help you avoid serious health complications. And it’ll play a big part in your daily life regardless of if you have type 1 or type 2.
If you have type 1 diabetes, you’ll need to take insulin to control your blood sugar levels. You’ll also need to test your blood glucose levels regularly. And count how many carbs (carbohydrates) you eat and drink. Counting carbs will help you work out how much insulin you should take when you inject with your meals.
And generally you should be trying to have a healthy lifestyle. That includes regular physical activity and a healthy balanced diet. These will help you reduce your risk of diabetes complications.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you also need to eat a healthy diet and be active. These things will help you manage your weight and diabetes.
But quite often people with type 2 also need to take medication. Such as tablets and insulin, or other treatments too. Whether you need to test your blood glucose level like someone with type 1, depends on the treatment you take. Your GP can tell you what you should do at home.
The emotional impact of type 1 and type 2 diabetes
Living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can sometimes feel overwhelming.
Both types are different but feeling down or anxious because of your diabetes can affect anyone. It is important to understand that a long-term condition can come with an emotional impact, no matter how it has been caused or how you treat it.
If you’re struggling with your diabetes, remember that you’re not alone.
There is lots of support available to you, like our helpline. There you can speak to our highly trained advisors about how you're feeling. And you can also speak to people who are going through similar experiences on our forum. There are lots of things you can do to help yourself and it’s just about finding what works for you.
It can be frustrating to explain the differences between type 1 and type 2.
Both types face confusion over what causes the condition and how it can be treated. This will be slightly different whether you're type 1 or the more common type 2. Just because something is more common, doesn't mean it is understood.
And while it is emotionally draining to constantly correct people, you should also know that you're not alone. There are many people living with diabetes facing similar questions and struggles, regardless of type. You can reach out to them to give or receive support in the forum and at local groups.
Unfortunately, there’s currently no permanent cure for either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
But there’s evidence that some people with type 2 can put their diabetes into remission by losing weight. Following a very low-calorie diet under medical supervision, or having surgery are some ways you can put your type 2 diabetes into remission.
We’re also funding some vital research projects to help transform treatment and care. And to help find a cure for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.