Type 1 vs Type 2 Diabetes: Similarities and Differences

Metabolic Syndrome

Diabetes affects a significant proportion of the population, from children to adults. Generally, diabetes is sorted into two categories based on pathology: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is associated with metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease, while type 1 diabetes is more influenced by genetic factors. Here we go through everything you need to know about the causes, symptoms, and risk factors when comparing type 1 vs type 2 diabetes.

How Are Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes Similar?

Let’s first take a look at how the two types of diabetes are similar. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes tend to exhibit similar symptoms.

Both Type 1 and Type 2 Impact Insulin

Insulin is a hormone that is responsible for signaling cells to collect sugar from the bloodstream. For an individual without diabetes, consuming sugar will trigger the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin will then enter the bloodstream and cells will be notified that it’s time to absorb glucose and use it for energy. As glucose enters cells, blood sugar levels drop and so does insulin production. Any excess glucose is stored in your liver in the form of glycogen.

For individuals with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the pancreas and insulin aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. Body tissue and cells don’t receive the message that glucose is present in the bloodstream, and therefore don’t absorb it.

Type 1 and Type 2 Share Some Common Symptoms

Because of the impact of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes on insulin, cells are deprived of energy, which results in some overlapping symptoms:

  • Intense hunger and/or thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Vision problems
  • Exhaustion

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes May Result in the Same Complications

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes, if not managed properly, share similar complications. As the stages of diabetes progress, complications will be more serious. Prolonged periods of time with untreated high blood sugar can cause damage to numerous organ systems. Complications of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:

  • Kidney disease: Constantly processing glucose can damage kidney cells and cause eventual kidney failure.
  • Damaged eye tissue: Diabetes can result in vision problems and eye conditions like cataracts.
  • Higher likelihood of infections: High blood glucose can affect the immune system’s ability to respond effectively to infections.
  • Damage to nerves: Nerve damage throughout the body often affects the feet and legs, causing tingling and movement difficulty. Nerve damage from diabetes is also called neuropathy.
  • Ketoacidosis: Ketoacidosis is a condition that results in excessive acid in the bloodstream. It is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
  • Cardiovascular disease: High sugar levels can inflict damage on veins and arteries and increase the risk of heart disease. Weakened blood vessels can raise the risk of experiencing cardiovascular events like a heart attack or stroke.

Type 1 vs Type 2 Diabetes

Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

The main differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes stem from the primary causes, risk factors, and treatment.

The Effect on Insulin Is Different

Though both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes impact insulin and blood sugar level, the underlying pathological pathways differ.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is essentially an autoimmune disease. Individuals with type 1 diabetes have congenital abnormalities that result in the body producing insufficient levels of insulin. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack pancreatic beta cells. As a result, the pancreas is unable to perform its functions and doesn’t synthesize and secrete insulin. Because type 1 diabetes is directly connected to the presence and amount of insulin in the blood, it has historically been called insulin-dependent diabetes. Without enough insulin, cells do not collect glucose from the bloodstream.

Type 2 Diabetes

In contrast, type 2 diabetes – also referred to as diabetes mellitus- develops over time and is distinguished from type 1 diabetes by insulin resistance. This means that even if the pancreas produces sufficient amounts of insulin, the body does not respond properly to the presence of insulin. Because of the body’s abnormal response to insulin, type 2 diabetes has historically been called non-insulin-resistant diabetes. In many cases, however, the pancreas may also produce insufficient amounts of insulin. The end result is the same as type 1 diabetes: the body’s cells fail to absorb sugar from the bloodstream.

Is Diabetes Hereditary?

The heritable aspect of diabetes is another area where type 1 differs from type 2. There appears to be a strong genetic component for developing type 1 diabetes. For this reason, type 1 diabetes usually comes to light in early childhood, though adult-onset type 1 diabetes is possible. In contrast, you may be at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you have a family history of it. However, environmental factors like diet and lifestyle tend to be the deciding factors that influence the development of type 2 diabetes.

Risk Factors Associate with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

The risk factors contributing to type 1 diabetes are mainly connected to genetics. You are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes if you have inherited the genetic propensity for it. There also seems to be a connection between type 1 diabetes exposure to certain viruses and bacteria. Because genetics is the determining factor, type 1 diabetes usually comes to light in childhood.

On the other hand, type 2 diabetes usually develops later in life. Risk factors that are associated with the development of type 2 diabetes include obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Type 2 diabetes is also associated with fatty liver disease.

Diagnostic Criteria

Blood tests can reveal the presence of diabetes, though they are not definitive in determining which type of diabetes you have. Generally, the diagnostic criteria are the same for determining type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Your physician will conduct several tests to determine whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association provides a helpful outline of diagnostic tests that are used in determining the presence of diabetes. (1)

A1C Test

The A1C test indicates how much glucose has been in the bloodstream over the past few months. A1C refers to glycated hemoglobin, which is hemoglobin that has sugar bound to it. Normally, very little sugar attaches to hemoglobin since it is readily absorbed by cells to be utilized for energy. However, consistently high blood glucose levels cause more glucose to bind to hemoglobin.

A result of 5.7% or lower indicates normal A1C levels, while a result between 5.7% and 6.4% indicates prediabetic levels of A1C. A result that is higher than 6.4% indicates diabetes.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test

During an oral glucose tolerance test, a physician can assess how effectively your body handles sugar by administering a sugary beverage and testing blood glucose levels 2 hours after consumption.

A blood glucose level lower than 140 mg/dL indicates a normal result. A result between 140 mg/dL and 199 mg/dL indicates prediabetes, while a result of 200 mg/dL and above determines the presence of diabetes.

Random Plasma Glucose Test

A physician will administer a random plasma glucose test when you are experiencing signs and symptoms of diabetes. A result of 200 mg/dL or above determines the presence of diabetes.

Fasting Plasma Glucose

The fasting plasma glucose test is usually a routine part of an annual physical and tests blood sugar levels after fasting overnight.

A normal result for the fasting plasma glucose test is less than 100 mg/dL. Prediabetic levels of glucose fall between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL. Glucose levels above 125 mg/dL indicate diabetes.

Prediabetes precedes full-blown type 2 diabetes and is indicated by elevated blood sugar levels that aren’t quite high enough to indicate diabetes.

Your physician will likely take into account certain factors to determine whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, including age and response to insulin administration. A physician may decide to test for autoantibodies. A positive result may indicate type 1 diabetes over type 2 diabetes. If you are pregnant, your physician may diagnose you with gestational diabetes.

Differences in Treatment

Because the underlying pathologies of type 1 and type 2 diabetes differ, the treatment for managing each condition must differ accordingly.

Treating Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is not characterized by insulin resistance, and therefore administration of insulin is sufficient for treating it. People with type 1 diabetes must also be careful to make sure their blood sugar levels don’t get too low after receiving insulin.

Treating Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is highly responsive to diet and lifestyle changes. Cutting back on processed foods, animal products, and added sugar helps promote healthy insulin function. Eating lots of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and high-quality protein is critical to reversing type 2 diabetes. Exercising and losing weight are also helpful strategies for promoting healthy insulin function.

In some cases, medications like metformin may help control metabolic syndrome, and administering insulin may be helpful as well.

If you have prediabetes, there are actions you can take to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. For example, weight loss, exercising, and eating healthy foods can help reverse prediabetes and promote insulin sensitivity.

If you also have fatty liver disease, diet and lifestyle changes that reverse prediabetes and type 2 diabetes will likely also reverse fat accumulation in the liver.

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes: Diagnosis And Treatment

The Bottom Line

Diabetes is a widespread condition that impacts blood sugar levels. Uncontrolled, it can lead to serious complications. Type 1 and type 2 are the two common forms of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is associated with metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease and can be reversed with diet and lifestyle changes.


(1) https://www.diabetes.org/a1c/diagnosis

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