Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes: What You May Not Know

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Sarah Scott (pictured) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) when she was a sophomore in college and says,

“One of the toughest things about living with T1D is that it’s often invisible. If others can’t physically see the ramifications of a disease, they may begin to wonder why it’s ‘such a big deal’ or how something like high blood sugar can throw off my entire day. This, paired with the misconceptions and lack of knowledge about T1D, can be hard to deal with on some days.”

Misunderstandings exist because there are similarities between T1D and type 2 diabetes (T2D). For example, both share similar symptoms at diagnosis, including excessive thirst, increased urination, increased infections, fatigue, weight loss and blurred vision. Blood-glucose monitoring is a management tool used by people with T1D and T2D. Family history plays a role in the development of both T1D and T2D. Life threatening complications can occur from both types of diabetes.

That’s where the similarities end. The differences between the two are vast, and understanding these differences is crucial for healthcare providers and the community at large.

  • T1D happens when the body destroys its own cells that make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that everyone needs in order to get energy from the food they eat. Our bodies need insulin to survive.
  • T2D, which makes up 90-95 percent of all diabetes diagnoses, happens when the body makes insulin, but can’t use it normally. Eating too much sugar, gaining too much weight, and not exercising enough can put you at risk for T2D.

For many years, the medical community believed that T1D was only diagnosed in children. In fact, nearly half of the people diagnosed with T1D are over 30 years old. T1D in adults is often misdiagnosed as T2D because of this longstanding misconception. A misdiagnosis can result in dangerously high blood-glucose levels and diabetic ketoacidosis.

Sarah Scott thinks one way to clear up the confusion about the differences between T1D and T2D is to ask questions.

“I wish others thought through their comments before making them. T1D isn’t a disease that’s understood well by others, and I don’t expect everyone to know exactly what T1D is. But I do wish that other people would ask questions instead of making judgments. Instead of assuming I can’t eat something because it has sugar, ask me. I know my body well enough to make smart choices, and T1D doesn’t mean ‘no sugar ever.’ If you don’t understand something about T1D, ask me. I’d like to help you understand. Helping someone feel supported and heard goes a long way.”

Learn more about the differences between T1D and T2D.