The difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes can occur on several levels, including age, lifestyle, and body physiology. Learn more.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is much rarer than type 2 — in fact, it makes up only 5 to 10 percent of all cases. If you are like most people with type 1, your immune system destroys the cells in your pancreas that produce and release insulin and eventually you make no insulin at all. The symptoms, which might include bed-wetting and weight loss, often first show up between the ages of four and seven, or between the ages of 10 and 14. We need insulin to regulate the glucose (often called “sugar”) in our blood. With type 1, blood-sugar levels can fall very low or very high.
If you had a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes, you are slightly more likely to share the problem. People who live in the northern part of the globe are more likely to have type 1 diabetes. Other possible risk factors haven’t yet been proven. They include exposure to viruses, low vitamin D levels, and a mother with preeclampsia during pregnancy.
It’s essential to manage your blood sugar levels with medication, because serious complications can build up over decades. People with type 1 diabetes have a much higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Their nerves can be damaged, especially in the legs. You can develop unpleasant sensations in your toes or fingers that spread up your legs and arms. You might even lose feeling in your limbs. Some people develop infections in their feet and may need a toe, foot, or leg amputated. If nerves in the gastrointestinal tract are damaged, you might experience vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Men may have erectile dysfunction. Kidney and eye damage are also risks. Type 1 diabetes also raises the risks of pregnancy problems.
Type 2 diabetes
The most common form of diabetes, type 2 was once called adult-onset because it develops over time. However, more children now have type 2 diabetes, as they are more likely to be inactive and overweight. Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which your body has insulin but needs more of it to achieve normal blood sugar levels, a problem called insulin resistance. Patches of dark, velvety skin in the armpits and neck may appear. Your pancreas may begin to produce less insulin over time, and you develop insulin deficiency.
You can have type 2 diabetes for years and not realize it. When too much glucose builds up in your blood, fluid is pulled from your tissues and you may feel thirsty. You’re likely to drink and urinate more than usual. If fluid is pulled from your eyes, your vision may blur. You might get intensely hungry, if your cells are deprived of glucose. We need insulin for glucose to reach and fuel our cells. Because your body can’t use the food you eat properly, you may lose weight even though you’re over-eating. Infections and sores may take a long time to heal.
Type 2 diabetes can arise from bad health habits, although genetics also play a big role. The more fat you carry, the more likely you are to develop insulin resistance, especially if the fat is stored in your belly. Exercise makes a big difference — it can help you burn off fat and directly makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.
Pay attention if your blood sugar levels fall into the prediabetes category. Your chances of becoming diabetic are much higher, if you don’t take action: losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking if you need to, and possibly taking Metformin or other medications.
While there is a notable difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the potential consequences of type 2 diabetes are similar to those of type 1, if it is not treated successfully. Type 2 diabetes may also increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
February 28, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN