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Spot The Differences: Type 1 And Type 2 Diabetes

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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, it is imperative to understand the distinctions between type 1 and type 2 diabetes in order to understand what is entailed to manage the condition effectively. There are numerous similarities that the two types share, but there are also some notable differences.   

Diabetes Defined

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder of the endocrine system in which the pancreas either does not produce adequate levels of insulin or the body is unable to utilize the insulin produced, resulting in high levels of glucose in the blood. Insulin is a hormone that is necessary for the conversion of glucose into the energy needed for optimal cellular function. When the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, or when the cells are unable to make the conversion, the glucose level builds up in the bloodstream. Two types of diabetes mellitus are known as type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Key differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes distinguish the cause and prevalence and include:

  • In patients with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin.
  • Type 1 diabetes is essentially an autoimmune condition in which the body's immune system attacks the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells, rendering them nonproductive.
  • In patients with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin, but the amount of insulin may be insufficient, or the body's cells do not respond to process the insulin adequately for regulating blood glucose levels.
  • According to the American Diabetes Association, type 1 diabetes accounts for five percent of diagnosed cases of diabetes mellitus.
  • Type 2 diabetes is far more prevalent at 95 percent of diagnosed cases.

When it comes to similarities, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are potentially life threatening if the conditions are not properly managed. Both variations pose risks for serious health complications, including blindness, neuropathy, foot amputation, kidney disease and diabetic coma.

Age Group Differences

Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as juvenile diabetes because it affects primarily children and teens. Patients with type 1 diabetes are typically diagnosed between the age of 5 and 25 when symptoms of high blood sugar land them in the doctor's office for an examination. Type 1 diabetics exhibit thin to normal body weight. 

Type 2 diabetes was once often referred to as adult-onset diabetes because this form was typically diagnosed in adults and in the elderly. The age gap between type 1 and type 2 diabetes is closing, however, as the rise of childhood obesity and inactivity has resulted in an increased number of children and teens who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in recent years. Individuals of any age who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are usually overweight or obese.

Symptomatic Differences

While both type 1 and type 2 diabetes present with similar symptoms that include increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite, lethargy, nausea, vomiting and weight loss, some differences of note in each type are:

  • The symptoms of type 1 diabetes present rapidly over a course of a few days or weeks.
  • The symptoms of type 2 diabetes do not present in the early stages of the disease, and patients can be asymptomatic for years before their diagnosis is made.
  • Additional symptoms of type 2 diabetes include areas of darkened skin, itchy skin, slow wound healing and impotence.

Treatment and Prevention Differences

There is no cure for either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Both variations must be managed to prevent dangerously high blood glucose levels. Treatment plans for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:

  • Insulin supplementation through injection or oral medication
  • Dietary changes
  • Exercise
  • Monitoring of blood glucose levels, cholesterol levels and blood pressure

Since type 1 diabetics are not capable of producing insulin, lifelong injections of replacement insulin are a crucial part of their treatment regimen. Current research is underway in the hope of developing a drug therapy that will enable the pancreas to regenerate and produce insulin.

There is currently no way to prevent type 1 diabetes because the pancreas' inability to produce insulin is caused by factors that are beyond the patient's control, including genetics and autoimmune deficiency. 

Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented by choosing a healthy lifestyle that includes a nutritionally balanced diet and a regular exercise program. Once an individual is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it is possible to achieve remission by initiating such lifestyle changes and losing weight. Some type 2 diabetics begin the process by undergoing bariatric surgery to enable them to feel satiated more quickly and lose their excess weight. Type 2 diabetic patients who are determined can succeed in maintaining healthy blood glucose levels without the aid of insulin supplementation. However, they must periodically monitor their blood glucose level to confirm that this remission remains in effect.

Whichever type of diabetes you or a family member has been diagnosed with, diligent monitoring and communication with a doctor (such as one from Summit View Clinic), in addition to a few modifications in lifestyle and compliance with your doctor's recommended treatment plan, will extend and improve quality of life.


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