Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes Type 1 and type 2 have different causes

Whilst both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are characterised by having higher than normal blood sugar levels, the cause and development of the conditions are different.

Confused over which type of diabetes you have?

It is not always clear what type of diabetes someone has.

For example, it is relatively common for people with type 2 diabetes to need insulin injections and it is not uncommon for people with type 1 diabetes to carry excess body weight.

In some cases, where the type of diabetes is in doubt, your health team may need to carry out specialised tests to deduce which type of diabetes you have and therefore to recommend the most appropriate treatment for your diabetes.

Common differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Please note that these differences are based on generalisations and exceptions may apply.

For example, whilst the majority of people with type 1 diabetes are diagnosed in childhood, diagnoses in adults are still relatively common.

Similarly, whilst type 2 diabetes tends to be associated with being overweight, about 20% of cases of type 2 diabetes are in people of a healthy weight.

The common differences are as follows:

Common differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes Type 2 Diabetes
Often diagnosed in childhood Usually diagnosed in over 30 year olds
Not associated with excess body weight Often associated with excess body weight
Often associated with higher than normal ketone levels at diagnosis Often associated with high blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels at diagnosis
Treated with insulin injections or insulin pump Is usually treated initially without medication or with tablets
Cannot be controlled without taking insulin Sometimes possible to come off diabetes medication

How type 1 diabetes develops

In type 1 diabetes, an event or series of events (which researchers are yet to fully identify) causes the body’s immune system to incorrectly target and kill the cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin.

These insulin producing cells are called beta cells.

The immune system will keep destroying any new beta cells the body produces and so people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin injections to compensate for the reduced ability of the pancreas.

How type 2 diabetes develops

In type 2 diabetes, the body becomes less able to respond to insulin, this feature of type 2 diabetes is called insulin resistance.

The body will try to compensate by producing more insulin but if the body cannot produce enough, high blood sugar levels will result.

If the pancreas needs to keep producing an increased quantity of insulin, then the insulin producing beta cells may begin to fail and someone with type 2 diabetes can gradually start to lose their ability to produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes and insulin injections

People with type 2 diabetes may need to start taking insulin injections. This can happen for two main reasons.

The first reason is if someone has a very low sensitivity to insulin. Sensitivity to insulin tends to decrease with the more excess body weight we carry. Having a low sensitivity to insulin may therefore make it necessary to take insulin injections in order to keep blood glucose levels under control.

A second reason for needing to take insulin injections is if the pancreas struggles to produce enough insulin and a significant number of insulin producing beta cells fail.

If beta cell failure continues, over time the pancreas’s ability to produce insulin will decrease and insulin injections may, as a result, be necessary.

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