Diabetes 101 | Key Differences Between Type 1 & 2

According to the CDC, over 100 million Americans are currently living with either prediabetes or diabetes, a metabolic disease that affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels effectively.1 There are a variety of severe symptoms and complications associated with diabetes, all of which lead to an average reduction in the lifespan of up to a decade.2

With such a high prevalence in the population, you or someone you love has likely been diagnosed with the disease. Understanding what that diagnosis means, and what can be done to mitigate the effects, is critical to successful long term management. 

The most significant thing that you need to know is that there are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. The differences between them include what causes them, how they affect your body, and what the most effective treatment strategies are. To properly care for and manage the symptoms of diabetes, you must understand these differences and take them into account. 

Here is a summary of the key differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. 

Type 1 Diabetes 

Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, is caused when the body produces too little (or even none at all) insulin. This lack of insulin happens because the immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin, called beta cells, after it incorrectly identifies them as foreign. This is a problem because insulin is the protein that transports sugars in the blood to the numerous cells of the body, where it is used for energy. When the cells don’t have consistent access to energy, they are unable to function properly. Additionally, if blood sugar levels remain poorly regulated, there can be adverse effects on organs such as the kidneys. 

Type 1 Diabetes is a chronic condition that is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and is thought to be caused by either genetic or environmental factors. The most effective way to treat this form of diabetes is by supplementing insulin directly, usually accomplished with regular insulin injections.3

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is more common than type 1 diabetes and has several distinct differences that make it unique. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 is thought to be caused by lifestyle factors that include excess weight, poor diet, inactivity, and age. Individuals that have type 2 diabetes can produce insulin but become resistant to it and are unable to regulate their blood sugar levels properly as a result. Type 2 diabetes is typically diagnosed later in life (although the average age of diagnosis has shifted younger recently) only after more severe symptoms present themselves. 

Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes has a variety of treatments available that don’t involve supplementing insulin. Recent science has even shown that with effective lifestyle changes to diet and exercise, type 2 diabetes can also be reversed. The most effective treatments for type 2 diabetes are a low-calorie diet and increased activity level, as these two changes result in weight loss.4

Similarities Between Type 1 and Type 2 

There are several distinct differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes when it comes to causes and treatments, but the two also share some similarities. The first similarity is that both types of diabetes can cause serious health complications. Studies have shown that when diabetes is left unchecked, it can lead to a reduced life expectancy of up to a decade. Also, both types can lead to serious long term health complications. These health problems include cardiovascular issues such as heart attack, damage to the nerves, eyes, and kidneys, and even the loss of limbs due to impaired wound healing capacity and reduced circulation.5

Finally, type 1 and type 2 diabetes are similar in that both diseases still require more research to understand fully. Science is learning more about the causes and best treatment protocols for the disease, but there are still significant questions that need to be answered. 


Diabetes is one of the most important health issues of our time; it affects over 100 million people in the United States and causes serious health complications if left unchecked. Committing to the right treatment plan is critical to minimizing these symptoms, determining what that requires you to understand the distinct differences between the two different types. By staying informed and on top of the latest research, you arm yourself with the knowledge to find an effective treatment plan that is right for you or your loved one. 

[1] Diabetes Statistics [2] Diabetes Life Expectancy Data [3] Type 1 Diabetes Facts [4] Type 2 Diabetes Facts [5] Similarities of Type 1 & 2 Diabetes

Written by Samuel Hill