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What are the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

August 10, 2020 • read

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What are the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

According to Diabetes Canada, one in three Canadians is living with diabetes or prediabetes. Research has also shown that 20-year-old adults today face a 50% chance of developing diabetes in their lifetime. Chances are, diabetes will affect you or someone you know.

Diabetes is a lifelong condition where your body is unable to properly produce or absorb insulin. Insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas, helps keep your blood sugar at a stable level. Diabetes affects all age groups and can have serious consequences for your health. On an annual basis, Canadians living with diabetes account for:

  • 30% of strokes
  • 40% of heart attacks
  • 50% of kidney failure requiring dialysis
  • 70% of non-traumatic amputations 

Today, people with diabetes can expect to live full, active, and independent lives if they carefully manage their condition. If you’re at risk, it’s important that you get tested for type 2 diabetes. The disease can cause significant health problems when it’s left untreated. These problems can include:

  • Heart disease
  • Eye disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Nerve damage
  • Foot and leg problems

Types of diabetes

There are three major types of diabetes — type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common diagnosis, followed by type 1. Gestational diabetes is usually temporary, as it occurs during pregnancy. Another diagnosis you should be familiar with is prediabetes, which indicates an elevated risk of developing diabetes.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that’s also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. People with this condition must take insulin to ensure their bodies have the right amount. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and adolescents. Roughly 10% of people living with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

Type 2

This is the most common type of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adulthood, although children in high-risk populations are increasingly being diagnosed. Type 2 diabetes may require insulin therapy or medication. You can sometimes manage it simply with regular exercise and healthy eating.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy and affects about 2%—4% percent of all pregnancies. Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are at risk of having low blood sugar after birth and developing type 2 diabetes as children.

Prediabetes

Also known as impaired fasting glucose, prediabetes is a condition that can lead to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. A person with prediabetes has blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, but aren’t high enough yet for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, about 10%—23% of people with prediabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes within the next five years.

What are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes?

The earlier you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the sooner you can take action. If you have any of the following risk factors, consider getting tested for diabetes:

  • Having a parent, brother or sister with diabetes.
  • High blood cholesterol levels.
  • You’ve delivered a baby that weighed over four kilograms (nine pounds) at birth.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Being overweight, especially if you carry most of your weight around your middle.
  • Receiving a diagnosis with polycystic ovary syndrome or acanthosis nigrican (darkened patches of skin). 
  • Using glucocorticoid medication.

For more information, you can refer to the Canadian diabetes risk questionnaire.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes often develops slowly. You can have type 2 diabetes for years and not even be aware that anything’s wrong. Looks for different signs and symptoms, including:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Frequent infections
  • Areas of darkened skin, usually around the armpits or neck

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, consult a doctor and ask about a prediabetes screening.

How is diabetes treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, the condition can be managed in different ways, including:

Education

Receiving proper education about diabetes is an important first step. Anyone with diabetes should be well-informed about their condition.

Physical activity

Regular physical activity enhances overall fitness, promotes weight loss, reduces stress, and helps your body lower blood sugar levels.

Medication

Type 1 diabetes is always treated with insulin. Type 2 diabetes can require medication, insulin, or both to help your body control its blood sugar levels more effectively.

Nutrition

Nutrition is key to regulate your blood sugar levels, so you’ll have to be mindful of what, when, and how much you eat.

Weight management

For people with type 2 diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight is particularly important.

Lifestyle management

Reducing daily stress levels can help people with diabetes better manage their condition.

Blood pressure

High blood pressure can lead to heart disease and other serious problems, so people with diabetes should try to maintain a blood pressure level below 130/80. You may have to take medication or change your eating and physical activity habits to accomplish this.

Reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes

Diabetes is a serious condition. If you’re at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, you should know that it’s possible to both reduce the risk and manage this illness. A healthy lifestyle and regular exercise can help you accomplish this.

If you’re living with diabetes or prediabetes, you should consider consulting an endocrinologist. Diabetes is one of the most common diseases that endocrinologists help prevent and treat. They work closely with you to control your blood sugar levels and monitor your health.

If you’d like to consult an endocrinologist, you don’t have to wait months. You can get an endocrinology consultation in 24 hours or less — from your phone, tablet or computer.  

Talk to a doctor online.

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