Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Diabetes, Blood Sugar
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Type 1 diabetes, sometimes referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes (because it usually appears before the age of 20, but it can present at any age), is caused by an autoimmune attack on the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes the immune system to go awry, but viral infection, vitamin D deficiency, and genetic predisposition are possible causes. Whatever the reason,  the damaged pancreas is unable to produce adequate insulin, resulting in the inability of  glucose and other nutrients to enter the cells.

Type 1 Diabetes Signs and Symptoms

The classic presentation in type 1 diabetes is extreme hunger as the body tries to compensate for this inability to feed its cells—and rapid weight loss as the cells are unable to utilize food, regardless of how much is eaten. In addition, untreated individuals with type 1 diabetes are extremely thirsty, drink copious amounts of fluids, and urinate excessively as the body attempts to dilute and get rid of extremely high levels of glucose in the blood.

Type 1 diabetes is not as common as you may think—only between five and 10 percent of all people with diabetes have this form of the disease.  Most diabetics have type 2.

Type 2 Diabetes Causes

Type 2 diabetes is also marked by elevated blood glucose levels but for different reasons. Initially, people with type 2 diabetes make plenty of insulin. In fact, they often produce much more insulin than healthy individuals. But as the disease progresses the beta cells become exhausted and insulin production slows gradually and, although rare, may cease altogether.

The problem in this form of the disease involves the insulin receptor sites on the cells’ surfaces—they simply don’t respond to signals to open up to let in glucose and other nutrients, regardless of how much insulin is knocking at the door. This is a condition known as insulin resistance or insulin insensitivity, and it is at the root of 90 percent of all diagnoses of diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms

People with the type 2 form don’t experience the same diabetes signs and symptoms as those with Type 1. In fact, many of them have no symptoms at all. The disease is often discovered only during a routine blood test when a high fasting blood glucose reading, usually in the 150 to 300 mg/dL range, is noted.

The good news is that because the body only becomes “insensitive” or “resistant” to insulin, versus destroying insulin-producing cells , there are many type 2 diabetes treatments available.  We’ll be addressing them in future blog postings.

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