Type 1 vs. Type 2 diabetes: What’s the difference?

When people talk about the condition diabetes mellitus, they often use just the word “diabetes.” However, diabetes mellitus describes several types of conditions in which a child may develop high blood sugar (blood glucose). There are two main types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. What’s the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes definition

Type 1 diabetes used to go by different names, including juvenile-onset diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. This type of diabetes is a condition that causes the immune system to destroy islet cells, cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Over time, this causes the body to stop producing insulin. The body needs insulin, a hormone, because it helps turn blood glucose into energy for cells. Type 1 diabetes is less common than Type 2 diabetes –– about 5% of people with diabetes have Type 1. However, about 85% to 90% of children and adolescents with diabetes have Type 1.

Type 2 diabetes definition

Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, but Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age. It usually appears in adulthood, however the incidence of Type 2 diabetes in childhood is increasing. In this type, the body develops insulin resistance, and the body cannot use insulin in the way it should. As Type 2 diabetes progresses, the pancreas may make less insulin, called insulin deficiency. The incidence of Type 2 diabetes is on the rise due to obesity and other habits that put kids at risk for the condition.

Type 1 vs. Type 2 diabetes: Causes and prevention

Researchers believe that Type 1 could be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that cause the immune system to create antibodies against islet cells. Diabetes researchers are still trying to understand the factors causing Type 1. Lifestyle factors do not cause Type 1 diabetes.

Genetics also may play a role in developing Type 2 diabetes. However, unlike Type 1, there are lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of developing the condition. Being overweight and inactivity are the two biggest risk factors.

While there is nothing that can prevent a child from developing Type 1 diabetes, there are a lot of ways to help prevent or delay developing Type 2 diabetes, even with a family history.

Type 1 vs. Type 2 diabetes: Age of onset

Type 1 diabetes usually is diagnosed in children and teens, but can be diagnosed in adulthood. Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), a subgroup of Type 1 diabetes, often is diagnosed after age 30.

Type 2 diabetes usually is diagnosed in adulthood. However, when diagnosed in children, Type 2 diabetes usually is diagnosed after the onset of puberty.

Type 1 vs. Type 2 diabetes: Symptoms

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have similar symptoms, such as:

  • Blurry vision
  • High number of infections
  • Fatigue, or feeling tired
  • Feeling thirsty often
  • Needing to go to the bathroom often
  • Weight loss

The big difference between Type 1 and Type 2 is how these symptoms begin to show. Type 1 symptoms come on quickly. Type 2 symptoms, however, begin to show over time and get worse as time goes on. This is what can cause those with Type 2 not to realize they have the condition years before diagnosis.

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes care

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Type 1 vs. Type 2: Management

People with Type 1 diabetes will need to begin taking insulin, and will need to do so for the rest of their lives because their body cannot produce insulin. Insulin can be provided through an insulin pen, pump or syringe.

People with Type 2 diabetes may take medicines to help their body become more sensitive to insulin. As the condition progresses, insulin may be needed.

Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients will need education about proper diet; how to manage blood sugar when it’s too high or too low; and what to do when feeling sick.

Exercise is a big part of managing Type 2 diabetes. Getting to a healthy weight and exercising are important parts of treating Type 2.


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