Everyone’s heard a little bit about diabetes. If you haven’t been diagnosed, chances are pretty good that you know someone who has been.
It’s the most common disorder of the endocrine system. When you’re diagnosed, though, it’s time to get a bit more specific about the types. Just what are the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes
With this type, your pancreas is unable to make enough insulin, the hormone required to move blood sugar into your cells. For whatever reason, the bodies own immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. The cause is unknown, although research points to a combination of certain genes and an unknown environmental trigger. There is currently no cure.
People with type 1 diabetes have to take insulin. Period. If their body isn’t producing any insulin, it has to come from injections or perhaps an insulin pump. Without insulin, it won’t be long before someone with type 1 diabetes develops diabetic ketoacidosis, and if not treated appropriately and soon enough, they will die. While type 1 diabetes can happen at any time, most cases are discovered before the age of 20. This is why type 1 used to be called childhood diabetes or juvenile diabetes. However, it’s important to emphasize that it can happen at any age. Beyond Type 1 has a great resource about the warning signs of type 1 diabetes such as excessive thirst, frequent urination, sudden weight loss, fatigue, vision problems, and more. This cluster of symptoms usually happens suddenly, so most doctors will know to check blood sugars. The symptoms can be mistaken for the stomach flu or virus, strep throat, a growth spurt (in youth), or a urinary tract infection. A little knowledge can save your (or your child’s) life if the docs aren’t picking up the symptoms fast enough. A blood sugar check is quick, easy, and not at all expensive. Ask for it, even if you’re not getting any other labs or tests done.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes happens when your body’s cells do not respond to insulin as well as they should. The body responds by adding more insulin to force a response. In extreme cases, this vicious cycle can lead to your pancreas losing the ability to make enough insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is often preceded by a stage called pre-diabetes. It is a slow rise in the average amount of blood sugar in your body. It’s not enough to cause symptoms, but it’s a sign that you’re on your way to developing type 2 diabetes. If you are overweight or obese, you are much more likely to have pre-diabetes than thin people – but, it's not all about weight. Genetic predisposition is another big factor. If it were as simple as weight, everyone with extra weight would be diagnosed with diabetes, and that's not the case. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 can often be managed for a long time with diet and exercise alone, especially when diagnosed early. Staying aware and educated, managing your diet, staying active, and regularly monitoring your blood sugars, you can put diabetes management on autopilot. While all the symptoms of type 1 can be present with a type 2, they are less severe unless there’s a serious problem. However, there are some symptoms that are a sign of chronic high blood sugar. These include increased infections, slower healing, impotence, and regular yeast infections or itching in the groin. In both types, chronic high blood sugars can cause long-term complications. The sugar causes damage to your body over time, especially to your nerves and vision. Your endocrinologist (a type of doctor that specializes in diabetes) can assess whether you’re dealing with any complications and what treatment options are available.
Other types of diabetes?
There are a few other types of diabetes, such as LADA, MODY, and gestational, for example. We’ll talk more about these in another article.