What’s The Difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Updated at: Jan 31, 2015
What’s The Difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes share the problem of high levels of blood sugar. But they are two different diseases in many ways. Here are the differences you need to know to be health-savvy in the age of the diabetes epidemic.

Ariba Khaliq
DiabetesWritten by: Ariba KhaliqPublished at: Jan 30, 2015

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are characterised by having higher than normal blood sugar levels, but their cause and development of the conditions are different.

Puzzled about the Type of Diabetes You Have?
It is not always clear what type of diabetes someone has because the symptoms of each type can also be displayed by the other type. So, it is not uncommon for people with type 2 diabetes to need insulin injections and it is relatively usual for people with type 1 diabetes to carry excess body weight.


In some cases, where the type of diabetes is in doubt, your health team may need to carry out specialised tests to deduce which type of diabetes you have and therefore to recommend the most appropriate treatment for your diabetes.

Common Differences between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

There are some generalised differences between the two types of diabetes and there can be exceptions to these.

For example, whilst the majority of people with type 1 diabetes are diagnosed in childhood, diagnoses in adults are still relatively common.

Similarly, whilst type 2 diabetes tends to be associated with being overweight, about 20% of cases of type 2 diabetes are in people of a healthy weight.

Characteristics of Type 1 Diabetes


  • Often diagnosed in childhood
  • Not associated with excess body weight
  • Often associated with higher than normal ketone levels at diagnosis
  • Treated with insulin injections or insulin pump
  • Cannot be controlled without taking insulin
  • It cannot be prevented

Type 1 Diabetes

Characteristics of Type 2 Diabetes


  • Usually diagnosed in over 30 year olds
  • Often associated with excess body weight
  • Often associated with high blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels at diagnosis
  • Is usually treated initially without medication or with tablets
  • Sometimes possible to come off diabetes medication
  • It can be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight, eating sensibly, and exercising regularly.

Type 2 Diabetes

Development of Type 1 Diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, an event or series of events, which hasn’t been fully identified by researchers, causes the body’s immune system to incorrectly target and kill the cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin. These insulin producing cells are called beta cells.

The immune system will keep destroying any new beta cells the body produces and so people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin injections to compensate for the reduced ability of the pancreas.

Insulin Resistance

Development of Type 2 Diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, the body becomes less able to respond to insulin, the condition being known as insulin resistance. The body tries to compensate by producing more insulin but when it cannot produce enough, the result is high blood sugar levels.

If the pancreas needs to keep producing an increased quantity of insulin, then the insulin producing beta cells may begin to fail and someone with type 2 diabetes can gradually start to lose their ability to produce insulin.

Both types of diabetes greatly increase a person's risk for a range of serious complications. Although monitoring and managing the disease can prevent complications, diabetes remains the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure. It also continues to be a critical risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and foot or leg amputations.

Images: Getty

Read more articles on Understand Diabetes.


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