How to tell the difference between type 1 and 2 diabetes

insulin needle
Diabetes affects close to 400 million people worldwide.

Diabetes is a complex condition, but one we’ve all become familiar with over the years. Nearly 400 million people around the world are living with diabetes making it one of the biggest health issues we face today.

Diabetes occurs when our bodies fail to convert glucose into energy. Without the conversion, our blood is flooded with glucose, which leads to high blood glucose levels.

The hormone insulin is vital for the conversion process and when the body fails to produce any or enough insulin, diabetes can develop.

The two most common forms of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Although their names are similar, there are big differences between the two.

While most people are aware there are different types of diabetes, not everyone is clear on the differences between them.

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Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. It is a hereditary disease, although it can also be developed without prior family history, and cannot be prevented.

About 10 per cent of people diagnosed with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

One of the most common misconceptions about type 1 diabetes is that is brought on by poor lifestyle choices. This is absolutely not the case though and even the most healthy people can develop the disease.

This misconception can be a sore point for some people living with the disease.

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People who have type 1 diabetes control their condition with insulin injections to help normalise blood glucose levels.

If a type 1 diabetic doesn’t get insulin at the right time their body starts to burn its own fat as a substitute, which creates a poisonous substance into the blood. This can be deadly if not treated properly with insulin.

Type 2 Diabetes

Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is incredibly common and accounts for 80-90 per cent of all cases of the disease.

It is a preventable condition and is often brought on by lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise. However, a family history of diabetes is also a known cause.

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Type 2 diabetes progresses slowly over a number of years. During this time insulin resistance begins; this is where the insulin is increasingly ineffective at managing the blood glucose levels.

The pancreas tries to overcompensate by creating more and more insulin, causing the insulin-producing cells to wear themselves out. By the time type 2 diabetes is diagnoses, 50-70 per cent of the cells have usually been destroyed.

People with a genetic disposition to the disease can reduce their risk factors by making healthy lifestyle choices and avoiding obesity or excessive weight gain.

Symptoms for type 1 and 2 diabetes

Symptoms for both types of diabetes are the similar and include:

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  • Being excessively thirsty
  • Passing more urine
  • Feeling tired and lethargic
  • Always feeling hungry
  • Having cuts that heal slowly
  • Itching, skin infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Gradually putting on weight

You may have these symptoms without diabetes, but it’s pertinent to see a doctor regardless.


There is no cure for any form of diabetes, but it can be properly managed with insulin therapy and good lifestyle choices. A doctor will establish the right blood glucose level for an individual patient and work with them to help monitor and control their levels.

Type 1 diabetes is managed with insulin injections several times a day or the use of an insulin pump, while type 2 diabetes is treated with diet and medication.

Did you know the difference between them? Do you know anyone who has diabetes?