What Is the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that currently affects 1 in 20 Australians.  It causes the levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood to become higher than normal, which can lead to serious health complications and have a significant impact on your quality of life left untreated (1).

There are three different types of diabetes –

  • Type 1,
  • Type 2, and
  • Gestational diabetes (2)

What is type 1 diabetes and what causes it?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where our immune system attacks and destroys the cells in our pancreas which produce insulin (1, 2). Insulin is an essential hormone that plays a vital role in the human body. Each time we consume food (mainly carbohydrates), insulin is released into the bloodstream, where it helps move glucose (sugar) from our bloodstream into cells (e.g. in our muscles and liver) to be used as energy (2). Because the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, people with type 1 diabetes require insulin replacement through daily injections or an insulin pump lifelong. Close monitoring of blood glucose (sugar) levels is also needed to safely manage the condition and to prevent short and long-term complications (3). At present, type 1 diabetes accounts for ~10% of diabetes, and is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions. Whilst we know that type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction, the exact reason why this occurs is unknown (4).

Who is at risk of developing type 1 diabetes?

Family history is thought to increase the risk of this condition, and researchers also believe there also may be environmental factors at play, for example, exposure to viruses. However, more research is needed in this space. Also, while Type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age, it is more common to develop in childhood and adolescence (4).

What are the differences between type 1 and 2 diabetes?

Diabetes types 1 and 2 are different in several ways. Firstly, a key difference between Type 1 and 2 diabetes is that type 2 diabetes is a disease related to lifestyle factors, for example being overweight and having an inactive lifestyle. Also, type 2 typically develops over a long period of time and is due to your body becoming resistant to the effects of insulin – known as insulin resistance and later in the disease, the cells in the pancreas stop making enough insulin. This is a key difference between Type 1 and 2 diabetes, as type 1 is triggered by an autoimmune reaction that attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas.

Another difference between Type 1 and 2 diabetes is that type 2 has a much higher occurrence, accounting for ~85%, and is also the fastest-growing chronic condition in Australia vs type 1, accounting for just 10% of cases (1).

While both types of diabetes have different causes, they both result in too much glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream, rather than being used for energy by your body. If left untreated, this can lead to serious health complications and cause damage to several organs including the kidneys, eyes, heart, and skin (5).

Who is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of a person developing type 2 diabetes. Some risk factors we have control over, and others we are born with. These include:

1.  Non-modifiable risk factors

  • Age – your risk of type 2 diabetes increases as you age, particularly >40 years old

  • Family history – If you have a close biological relative with diabetes, this means your risk is significantly increased.

  • Race and ethnicity – Research has found that certain ethnicities carry a higher risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. These include people who are of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander, or Maori descent, as well as people who are from Asia, The Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Europe.

  • Gestational diabetes – Having gestational diabetes during pregnancy increases the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.

  • PCOS – women who have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome are at higher risk due to Insulin Resistance (6).

2. Modifiable risk factors

  • Being overweight

  • Fat distribution i.e. carrying more weight around your midsection

  • An inactive lifestyle

  • Blood lipid levels – specifically low HDL “helpful” cholesterol and high triglycerides increase your risk

  • High blood pressure

  • Smoking (6)

What are diabetes symptoms?

Diabetes symptoms can develop over weeks or months. These include:

  • Excessive thirst

  • Frequent urination – often at night

  • Weight loss and frequent hunger

  • Blurry vision

  • Fatigue and exhaustion

  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet

  • Slow healing sores or increased infections (4)

Whilst there is very little difference between Type 1 and 2 Diabetes, type 1 diabetes symptoms can also include:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Stomach pains (4)

In some cases, it can take months and even years to notice given they are similar to other health conditions. If you’re worried that you or a family member may be exhibiting symptoms, speak to your doctor right away.

Key differences between Type 1 and 2 Diabetes?

Overall, there are a number of key differences between Type 1 and 2 Diabetes. These include:

  • Their cause – Type 1 being an autoimmune condition vs type 2 being related to lifestyle factors

  • Their prevalence – Type 1 accounts for only 10% of all diabetes, whereas type 2 accounts for 85% (1)

  • Who is at risk – e.g. Type 1 is more likely to affect children and teenagers, whereas Type 2 diabetes is more likely to affect adults, particularly those who are aged over 40 years old. Ethnicity, race, PCOS, and other modifiable risk factors summarised above also place people at higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

How can I prevent diabetes types 1 and 2?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes, given researchers aren’t even aware of the exact cause. However, there are several ways you can reduce your modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes which include:

  • Eating a nutritious, balanced diet containing whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, lean proteins, and reduced fat dairy

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Increasing physical activity

  • Reducing alcohol consumption

  • Quitting smoking (7)

If you’re worried about your risk and are looking to prevent type 2 diabetes, book your free assessment to speak to one of our friendly staff today about how our program can help you!

How we reviewed this article:
  • Sources
  • History

Our team consistently oversees developments in the health and wellness sector, ensuring our articles are updated with the latest information as soon as it emerges.

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