What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which your body doesn’t make enough insulin or your cells lose sensitivity to insulin. There are some differences between type 1 and type diabetes and it is not clear which one is worse.
Diabetes refers to the medical condition that keeps your body from producing enough insulin or that prevents your cells from using the insulin that your body produces.
Your body requires a form of sugar called glucose to function. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by your pancreas. Insulin allows the glucose to move from your bloodstream into your cells, where it can be created into energy.
The most common types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. They share some similarities. Both involve the body’s ability to produce and use insulin. Both can be managed with a doctor’s support.
The two types of diabetes have some important differences, but there is no clear answer regarding which one is worse.
Signs and symptoms of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder. This means that your body attacks itself if you have it.
The body’s immune system does not recognize the beta cells in your pancreas and attacks them. These cells are responsible for producing insulin. When your body attacks them, it leaves you unable to process glucose correctly.
Without the insulin to convert glucose into energy for your cells, the sugar you eat remains in your bloodstream.
Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in children and young adults. It has no relation to your body weight.
Unlike those of type 2, the symptoms of type 1 diabetes can appear suddenly and include:
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is usually diagnosed in adults. In the U.S. 90 to 95% of diabetes cases are type 2.
The main difference between type 2 and type 1 is that with type 2 your pancreas produces plenty of insulin. Your cells that should use the insulin to transform glucose into energy don’t respond to it. This is dangerous, because it leaves changing amounts of the sugar you eat in your blood.
You may be at more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes if you:
- Have prediabetes
- Are overweight
- Are over the age of 45
- Have a parent or sibling with diabetes
- Are physically active fewer than 3 times per week
- Have ever had gestational diabetes
- Are of African American, Hispanic, or Native American descent
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes are very similar to those of type 1. In addition to the symptoms associated with type 1, type 2 diabetes might lead to:
- Frequent infections
- Tingling, numbness, or pain in hands, feet, or legs
Diagnosis for diabetes
Your doctor can determine whether you have diabetes, and which type it is, with one of these tests:
- The A1C test measures your average blood sugar level over the previous 2 to 3 months
- The Fasting Blood Sugar test measures your blood sugar level after an overnight fast
- The Glucose Tolerance test measures how your body reacts after you drink a liquid that has a high level of sugar in it
These blood tests are reliable and easy to conduct. Your doctor will be able to determine whether you are prediabetic, or have type 1 or type 2 diabetes with these tests.
Treatments for diabetes
If you have either type of diabetes, your treatment will involve maintaining your blood sugar level at a safe level. How you go about that will depend on the type you have.
Treating type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition and is managed with a combination of insulin medication and lifestyle choices.
People with type 1 diabetes supplement their insulin levels with injections or an insulin pump. Additionally, it is recommended that people with this condition maintain a healthy body weight, eat a balanced diet, exercise often, and check their blood sugar levels as prescribed.
Treating type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is also managed through a combination of medication and lifestyle choices.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you’ll need to check your blood sugar levels to ensure that they are in a safe zone. Your doctor might prescribe medication to help keep your levels where they should be.
Experts also recommend eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise.
Possible complications and side effects
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes can have very serious side effects if they are not diagnosed or managed well.
One is not better or worse than the other. Both conditions require careful and mindful management. If your cells do not get the sugar they need to function, they will begin to die.
Blood sugar that is too high or too low is dangerous, especially to your brain. It is essential to manage your insulin and sugar levels to avoid loss of consciousness, organ damage, and other serious complications.
Medically Reviewed on 2/8/2021
American Diabetes Association: “Treatment and Care.”
American Heart Association: “Symptoms, Diagnosis and Monitoring of Diabetes.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Diabetes.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.”
Johns Hopkins Patient Guide to Diabetes: “Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes.”
Joslin Diabetes: “The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2.”
KidsHealth.org: “Type 1 Diabetes: How Is It Treated?”
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