The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes: A Helpful Guide

Many of us often get confused between type 1 diabetes vs type 2 diabetes. Knowing the difference between these two types of diabetes is important because while they may have similar symptoms, the causes and treatments are very different.

If you suspect you may have diabetes and want to learn the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, or if you want to prevent developing, continue reading our guide to learn more.

The Main Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes, but there are also ranges and types, often referred to as “clusters.” The two main types are type 1 and type 2. They are both chronic diseases that control the way our bodies regulate glucose or glucose.

Glucose is the fuel that feeds our bodies’ cells. To enter our cells, it needs a key, which in this case, is insulin.

Individuals diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aren’t able to produce insulin. Think of type 1 diabetes as not having the key glucose needs to enter our cells.

Individuals with type 2 diabetes have a hard time responding to insulin, and later on in life, don’t make enough insulin. Think of type 2 diabetes as having a broken key.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can lead to long-term high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels increase the risk and potential for diabetes complications.

What Are the Symptoms for Both Types of Diabetes?

Type 1 and type 2 share many similar symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • sores and cuts that don’t heal properly
  • excessive thirst and drinking a lot
  • frequent urination
  • feeling very hungry
  • blurry vision
  • excessive fatigue

Individuals with type 1 diabetes can also experience mood changes and irritability as well as unintentionally losing weight. Individuals with type 2 diabetes can also experience numbness and a tingling feeling in their feet and hands.

It is important to keep in mind that the symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are quite similar; they manifest and present themselves in different ways.

Often, individuals with type 2 diabetes show no signs or symptoms for many years. Their symptoms usually develop slowly over time. Many individuals with type 2 diabetes are asymptomatic (show no signs or symptoms at all) and are unaware of their condition until complications arise.

When it comes to type 1 diabetes, the symptoms develop fast. The time frame is usually over several weeks. Once known as juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes often develops in childhood or adolescence. It is important to note that there is a possibility of getting type 1 diabetes later in life.

What Can Cause Diabetes?

Despite having similar names and symptoms, type 1 and type 2 diabetes are different diseases. Both types of diabetes have their own respective and unique causes.

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes?

Our immune system is responsible for fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria, AKA foreign invaders. Individuals with type 1 diabetes have immune systems that mistake their body’s own healthy cells for harmful foreign invaders.

Their immune system destroys and attacks the beta cells that produce insulin in their pancreas. Once these beta cells are destroyed, their bodies are unable to produce insulin.

It is still unknown as to why their immune systems attack their body’s own cells. Environmental and genetic factors, like exposure to viruses, could be the reason, but further research is still ongoing.

What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?

Individuals with type 2 diabetes may be resistant to insulin. Their bodies still produce insulin, but their bodies are unable to use it effectively. It is still unknown to researches why some individuals become insulin resistant, and some don’t. Certain lifestyle factors may play a role, such as inactivity or excess weight.

Other genetic environmental factors may also contribute.

When it comes to individuals who develop type 2 diabetes, their pancreas tries to compensate by producing more insulin. Because their bodies are unable to productively use insulin, the remaining glucose accumulates in their bloodstream.

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes: Risk Factors

Keep in mind that type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented. However, the risk factors for type 1 diabetes include:

  • Age: Type 1 diabetes is most common among children and adolescents. but you can get it at any age
  • Family history: Individuals with a sibling or parent with type 1 diabetes have a higher chance of developing it as well
  • Genetics: Certain genes contribute to an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes if present
  • Geography: The proportion of people affected by type 1 diabetes increases the farther away you are from the equator

These are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes:

  • existing prediabetes or slightly elevated blood sugar levels
  • obesity or being overweight
  • having an immediate family member with type 2 diabetes
  • being over the age of 45
  • an inactive lifestyle
  • previous gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
  • gave birth to a baby weighing over 9 pounds
  • being of African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, or Alaska Native descent
  • POS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
  • excessive belly fat

It is possible to lower your chance of developing type 2 diabetes through simple lifestyle changes such as:

  • Increasing your activity levels
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Reducing your intake of overly processed or sugary foods


Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are diagnosed using the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This test is a blood test that determines and assesses your average blood sugar level over two to three months. Your doctor draws blood, or you are given a small finger prick.

An A1C level of 6.5 or higher is a sign of diabetes.


Unfortunately, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes. Since individuals with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin, they must regularly inject it into their body—sometimes several times per day.

Type 2 diabetes can be managed and even reversed with exercise and diet alone, but some individuals may need extra support. Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough, oral diabetes medications prescribed by your doctor can help your body use insulin more effectively.

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes: Knowing the Difference

It is common not knowing the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Knowing the difference between these two types of diabetes is important because while they may have similar symptoms, the causes and treatments are very different.

If you suspect you may have diabetes and want to learn the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, or if you want to prevent developing, we hope our guide has helped you and given you further insight.

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