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Diabetes Type 1 vs. Type 2 — Which One Do You Have?
Updated on October 3, 2022
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Diabetes Type 1 vs. Type 2 — Which One Do You Have?

Diabetes is a health condition that affects about 37.3 million Americans.1 It impacts your body’s ability to use sugar, so it accumulates in your blood. 

The resulting high blood glucose level (hyperglycemia) causes many unpleasant symptoms. It can also lead to numerous health complications.

There are two major types of diabetes — type 1 and type 2. Although there’s no cure for it, you can manage these lifelong conditions. 

Understanding how this disease affects your body helps you live a long and healthy life. We decided to consult our resident medical reviewer, Dr. Rizza Mira, on the differences between diabetes 1 and 2.

Dr. Mira is a general practitioner with significant experience in public health.

Diabetes Type 1 vs. Type 2 — Which One Do You Have? 3

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) is an autoimmune disease. It’s the less common type and makes up only 8% of all diabetes cases.

According to Dr. Mira, diabetes 1 tends to affect younger populations. An estimated 1.6 million people in the U.S. have type 1 diabetes.3 

In a healthy person, the pancreas produces insulin. But in a type 1 diabetic, the body’s defenses destroy the beta cells in your pancreas. 

Without these cells, you can’t produce insulin. This affects the control of your blood sugar. 

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What is Type 2 Diabetes?

In type 2 diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), your cells don’t react to insulin. This is called insulin resistance. 

Insulin resistance causes high blood sugar levels. Up to 29 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes.4 It’s responsible for around 90% of diabetes cases. 

The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause your blood sugar levels to surge. Both can be triggered by genetic and environmental factors, including family history and a person's diet.

These conditions also lead to serious health complications. Despite these similarities, they aren’t the same. 

Understanding how each condition affects you can help you live healthier. 

Causes of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs because your immune system attacks the beta cells. Beta cells are the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. 

“Insulin is an important molecule that allows the entry of sugars into the cells, so they can use it as energy,” says Dr. Mira.

It’s an autoimmune condition that reduces how much insulin your body produces. This means that your cells don’t get the signal needed to use glucose for energy.

Type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance. Your pancreas makes insulin, but your cells don’t recognize it due to decreased insulin sensitivity. 

Dr. Mira explains this prevents sugar from entering body organs so they can be used for energy. As a result, it accumulates in the blood.

Metabolic disorders such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and elevated triglycerides are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

How the Body Produces Insulin

In type 1 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin

This happens due to the loss of functioning beta cells in your pancreas. As a result, you’ll need insulin injections to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

Your pancreas doesn’t have trouble producing insulin in type 2 diabetes. The problem is that your body’s cells don’t respond to the insulin

This means you may require more insulin to regulate your blood glucose.

The Role of Genetics, Lifestyle, and Weight

Genetics plays a prominent role in type 1 diabetes. You may get it regardless of your weight, diet, body mass index (BMI), or lifestyle choices.

Many factors lead to type 2 diabetes. It’s influenced largely by your body mass index, lifestyle, and the presence of metabolic disorders. Your genes also add to this condition.

Age of Onset

Type 1 diabetes generally begins in childhood. This is why it’s also called juvenile diabetes. It’s less common in people over 40 years old, but it can affect all age groups. 

Older adults and the elderly have a greater risk of type 2 diabetes. It’s seen more in people older than 40 years. 

Recently, type 2 diabetes is seen frequently in children. This is due to the increased rate of obesity in kids.

“In adults and children, being obese increases the severity of diabetes mellitus,” says Dr. Mira.

Similarities Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause your blood sugar levels to shoot up (hyperglycemia). The symptoms of both conditions are incredibly similar too.

Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have many of the same symptoms. They’re generally mild but may become more severe if the disease progresses unchecked. 

Signs to look out for include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurry vision
  • Mood changes
  • Frequent urination
  • Frequent infections
  • Wounds that won't heal
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Increased thirst and hunger 
  • Upset stomach and vomiting
  • Labored breathing (Kussmaul respiration)

How to Diagnose Type 1 Diabetes vs. Type 2

Your symptoms alone can’t accurately tell you if you have diabetes. Other health conditions may give you the same signs. 

Blood glucose monitoring is essential for early diagnosis. You can perform these tests with your health provider or at home. 

Your doctor uses your test results to determine the type of diabetes you may have. They might also request additional tests, such as:

Glycated Hemoglobin (A1C Test)

Your blood sugar levels change throughout the day. The glycated hemoglobin test (A1C) measures how much glucose is in the hemoglobin of your red blood cells. 

It tells your health provider your average blood sugar levels for approximately 3 months. 

The A1C test presents your blood glucose in percentages. Here are the test results:5

  • Normal — Below 5.7%
  • Prediabetes — Between 5.7% and 6.4%
  • Diabetes — 6.5% and above

Random Blood Sugar Test

A random blood sugar test measures your latest blood glucose level. You can take it at any time of the day without fasting or special preparations. A value of less than 200mg/dL is normal.

Fasting Blood Sugar Test

As the name implies, a fasting blood sugar test measures your blood glucose levels after a fast. You would generally need to stay up to 8 hours without food.6 

Dr. Mira explains that most clinicians rely on this test to diagnose diabetes mellitus.

"A value of less than 99mg/dL is normal, 100 to 125mg/dL may suggest prediabetes, and a value more than 126 indicates diabetes," she adds.

A great time to take your test is in the morning, before breakfast.

At-Home Diabetes Test Kit

Home diabetes tests like LetsGetChecked measure your A1C (HbA1c). Standard glucose tests only show your current blood sugar levels.

LetsGetChecked — Home Diabetes Test Kit

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Diabetes Type 1 vs. Type 2 — Which One Do You Have? 4

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However, A1C reveals your average blood glucose level for 2 to 3 months to give an idea of how your body regulates sugar. 

Consider taking an at-home diabetes test. They’re great because you won’t be leaving home. Simply collect your blood sample and mail it to the approved laboratory. 

A few days later, you can access your results via their mobile app, email, or a secure website. 

With the information you receive, you’ll know if you need to see a doctor or not. The platform may also offer support from health professionals.

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Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Jennifer Anyabuine
Jennifer Anyabuine
Content Contributor
Jennifer Anyabuine is a content writer with KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Biochemistry. She has been writing for 2 years. Her focus is women’s health, fitness, mental health, and general wellness.
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