Type 1 vs Type 2 Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Diabetes affects a staggering 422 million people around the world and 34.2 million Americans, meaning it’s very likely that you or someone you know is affected by the condition. 

But for a condition that is so common, many people still don’t understand what diabetes is, what causes diabetes, and what is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 

Medical professionals have conducted a lot of research to better understand diabetes and set diabetes management guidelines. Type 1 diabetes research and type 2 diabetes research are constantly ongoing to better manage and treat diabetes.

 If you or a loved one has diabetes, or you want to know more information about type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes, keep reading. Our simple and easy-to-understand guide explains the disease, causes, symptoms, and treatment options. 

Type 1 Diabetes Awareness

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body’s immune system mistakes the insulin-producing beta cells in your pancreas as a threat. Your body attacks these cells, which leaves you unable to produce insulin naturally. 

Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2; however, many people still live with type 1 diabetes. Research done by The American Diabetes Association shows that at least 1.6 million Americans suffer from type 1 diabetes, with 187,000 of them being children or adolescents. 

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but scientists suspect it correlates to genetic and environmental factors. Most people with type 1 diabetes are born with a predisposition to developing the disease and are typically diagnosed as children. 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes?

Patients with type 1 diabetes usually experience increased thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger (called polyphagia), and weight loss. All of this is caused because the pancreas is not functioning correctly. 

When we eat, our digestive tract turns carbohydrates into glucose, the vital energy source for our cells. Insulin helps our body turn glucose into energy and aids our cells in storing that energy. But when your body doesn’t produce insulin, glucose stays in your bloodstream and is not converted into energy. 

To combat the high glucose levels in your bloodstream, your body will try to get rid of the build-up by making you go to the bathroom more. As a consequence, it’s easy to become dehydrated, making you drink more. This can become a vicious cycle for people with undiagnosed diabetes. 

Because your cells are not getting the glucose energy they require, your body takes this as a signal it needs to eat more. This is why people with undiagnosed or untreated type 1 diabetes may experience excessive hunger. And because the food is not turned into important fuel the body needs, you may eat large amounts of food and still lose weight. 

How Is Type 1 Diabetes Treated?

While there is no known cure for type 1 diabetes, it can be managed with proper medical care. Because the body cannot produce insulin, most patients need insulin injections. The amount of insulin shots a patient needs per day varies but usually ranges from two to four.

The insulin in an insulin injection will be either long-acting or short-acting. Long-acting insulin is meant to mimic the body’s steady natural production of the hormone throughout the day. 

Short-acting insulin should be taken at least 30 minutes before mealtimes and works with the spike in glucose experienced when eating to help the body absorb glucose properly. 

Type 2 Diabetes Awareness

The symptoms of 2 diabetes are very similar to type 1, but the cause can be quite different. As discussed, type 1 diabetes is usually developed when a patient is young. Type 2 diabetes typically develops later in life. Approximately 32.6 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. 

If you have type 2 diabetes, you are still able to produce insulin. However, over time, your cells become insulin resistant, leading to a sharp increase in your blood sugar levels (called hypoglycemia) and other complications.

Type 2 diabetes can be hereditary or due to lifestyle. A family history of type 2 diabetes has been shown to increase your risk of developing the disease. But lifestyle, like diet and exercise, plays a big role in developing type 2 diabetes. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can put you at a much higher risk for type 2 diabetes. 

Why lifestyle is so clearly linked to diabetes is due to a few factors. Junk foods are high in calories but low in nutritional value and typically very high in sugar and saturated fats. These types of foods can cause your blood sugar to spike and raise your cholesterol levels in a way that nutrient-dense foods do not. The way your body reacts to these foods can, over time, put you at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes. 

Carrying extra weight can make it harder for your body to produce and absorb insulin. This is why some people who are overweight or obese may develop type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, a condition where your blood sugar is elevated but has not yet reached diabetes level. 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes?

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes are similar to type 1 diabetes. An increased hunger, excessive thirst, fatigue, frequent urination, sudden weight loss are all common for people with untreated type 2 diabetes. The symptoms mirror those of type 1 diabetes because insulin is not functioning properly in the body, and cells are not fueled with glucose.  

The biggest difference between type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes is the way that these symptoms appear. Whereas type 1 diabetes symptoms are hard to ignore because they appear quickly, type 2 symptoms generally start to appear slowly and over time. 

This makes type 2 diabetes more difficult to notice, with warning signs easily overlooked in the early stages. Therefore, knowing your family history and other risk factors is often the best way to protect yourself from developing type 2 diabetes. If you have a family history of diabetes and/or your lifestyle puts you at a higher risk for diabetes, it’s important to speak to a medical professional

How Is Type 2 Diabetes Treated?

Because type 2 diabetes is often linked with lifestyle, lifestyle changes can help you manage the disease. If you suffer from prediabetes, lifestyle changes can even reverse your condition and prevent you from developing type 2 diabetes. 

Physical activity can also help manage type 2 diabetes and reverse prediabetes. Some studies suggest that people with type 2 diabetes should exercise 150 minutes per week, spread out over three days each week. 

Your medical professional may also prescribe anti-diabetic medications to help with lower glucose levels and insulin sensitivity. And insulin injections may be necessary, depending on glucose levels and symptoms. With proper diet and exercise, it is possible for some patients to safely stop their insulin injections. 

Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes: How Are They Tested?

If you suspect you have diabetes, a simple blood sugar test can determine if you have type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or prediabetes. 

The glycated hemoglobin test or A1C measures the amount of glucose attached to your hemoglobin and can determine your glucose levels over the past 3 months. 

For type 1 diabetes, this should be done in conjunction with a random blood sugar test for confirmation. If you have other medical conditions, they can interfere with the A1C test. This is why a random blood sugar test may also be required. 

Once your medical professional has confirmed if you have diabetes, what type of diabetes you have, and your blood sugar levels, you can start managing your diabetes. 

Get Help For Your Diabetes

While living with diabetes can be challenging, it is very possible to manage your symptoms and blood sugar levels with lifestyle changes, medication, and insulin. Your medical professional will determine the best treatment plan to manage your diabetes. 

Managing your diabetes is important, and the sooner you get on top of your blood sugar, the sooner you can feel better. At CityHealth Urgent Care, our experienced staff of medical professionals is here to help. Our patient-centered approach means we’ll work with you to create an individual treatment plan and manage your symptoms. 

If you have questions or concerns about diabetes or need a blood sugar test, call CityHealth at (510) 984-2489 or book an appointment at our San Leandro or Oakland location. If you would like to discuss treatment options or symptoms, CityHealth is pleased to offer virtual visits.

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