Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes: What's the Difference?

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

What Is a Diabetes Meal Plan?

There's no "magic" diabetes diet. However, there are dietary recommendations for people with diabetes. Diet methods for managing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:

  • Carbohydrate counting
  • The MyPlate method
  • The TLC diet plan
  • Eating low glycemic index foods

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a group of metabolic diseases, all of which have in common high blood sugar (glucose) levels that result from problems with insulin secretion, its action, or both. Normally, blood glucose levels are tightly controlled by a hormone produced by the pancreas known as insulin. When blood glucose levels rise (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas to normalize the glucose level.

What is type 1 diabetes?

An absolute lack of insulin, usually due to destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, is the main problem in type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes was formerly referred to as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). Its causes are different from type II diabetes, as will be reviewed in this article.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes was previously called non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), or adult onset diabetes mellitus (AODM). People who have type 2 diabetes can still produce insulin, but do so relatively inadequately for their body's needs. Type 2 diabetes typically occurs in individuals over 30 years of age, and its incidence increases with advancing age. In contrast, type 1 diabetes is most often diagnosed in young people.

Genetics plays a role in the development of type 2 diabetes, and having a family history and close relatives with the condition increases your risk; however, there are other risk factors, with obesity being the most significant. There is a direct relationship between the degree of obesity and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes for both children and adults. It has been estimated that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes doubles for every 20% increase over desirable body weight.

What are the differences between the causes of type 1 and type 2?

The underlying causes of type 1 and type 2 are different.

Type 1 diabetes causes

Type 1 diabetes is believed to be due to an autoimmune process, in which the body's immune system mistakenly targets its own tissues (islet cells in the pancreas). In people with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas that are responsible for insulin production are attacked by the misdirected immune system. This tendency for the immune system to destroy the beta cells of the pancreas is likely to be, at least in part, genetically inherited, although the exact reasons that this process happens are not fully understood.

Exposure to certain viral infections (mumps and Coxsackie viruses) or other environmental toxins have been suggested as possible reasons why the abnormal antibody responses develop that cause damage to the pancreas cells.

Type 2 diabetes causes

The primary problem in type 2 diabetes is the inability of the body's cells to use insulin properly and efficiently, leading to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and diabetes. This problem affects mostly the cells of muscle and fat tissues, and results in a condition known as insulin resistance. In type 2 diabetes, there also is a steady decline of beta cells that worsens the process of elevated blood sugars. At the beginning, if someone is resistant to insulin, the body can at least partially increase production of insulin enough to overcome the level of resistance. Over time, if production decreases and enough insulin cannot be released, blood sugar levels rise. In many cases this actually means the pancreas produces larger than normal quantities of insulin, but the body is not able to use it effectively. A major feature of type 2 diabetes is a lack of sensitivity to insulin by the cells of the body (particularly fat and muscle cells).

Both diabetes type 1 and diabetes type 2, require good control over their diet by eating foods that help regulate blood sugar, exercise, and in most patients, medical treatments to allow the patient to remain in good health.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/10/2017

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