Diabetes affects over 9% of the U.S. population. About 30 million people live with diabetes, though only about 23 million have been diagnosed. Diabetes is a serious condition, resulting in as many deaths each year as AIDS and breast cancer combined. Plus, diabetes doubles the chance of heart attack.

Because the disease is so common and dangerous, many wonder what is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes? To answer, let us first consider how diabetes develops.

What Causes Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a disease which develops when blood sugar levels become too high. The pancreas produces insulin, which is a hormone that helps glucose in food to be used in the body for energy. In diabetes, the insulin-producing beta cells become damaged, causing a disruption in this process.

Many believe the cause of diabetes to be too much sugar in the diet, but this is not correct. Although too much sugar does lead to obesity, which increases the risk of diabetes, there are far other risk factors including ethnicity, age, physical activity, and family history. And, while sugary drinks have been linked to type 2 diabetes, type 1 has no such connection.

Because ethnicity and family history are key factors which increase risk, there is a definite genetic component to the onset of diabetes, but researchers have yet to identify the exact nature of this connection.

What is Type I Diabetes?

Often termed juvenile diabetes, type I diabetes is a chronic condition which often starts at a very young age. It is also called insulin dependent diabetes because the pancreas either produces no insulin or not enough to process glucose. There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Often called hyperglycemia, type II diabetes is more common than type I. It is also called insulin resistant diabetes because although the pancreas is producing insulin, the body is not using it properly. The pancreas responds to this problem by producing more insulin, but this does not solve the problem and it eventually becomes too overworked to properly function as well.

Can Type 2 Diabetes Become Type 1 Diabetes?

No. People with type 2 diabetes may initially take a pill to help control their condition and must watch their diet. If the disease worsens, they must then give themselves insulin injections. This leads many to believe that the disease has progressed from type 1 to type 2. This is not correct.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks normal cells in the pancreas, causing the organ to fail in its job. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body is not able to properly use insulin so that sugar in the blood builds up and causes problems. Although this can and often does result in the pancreas eventually failing to produce insulin as is the problem with type I, the two conditions have a different underlying cause.

This is the reason many primary care physicians refer people with diabetes to a specialist known as an endocrinologist.

Can You Live a Normal Life with Type I Diabetes?

An endocrinologist can run tests and determine the best treatment program for the type and stage of diabetes involved. Furthermore, your endocrinologist will help manage your diabetes through a combined approach which includes:

  • Diabetes education
  • Controlling blood sugar levels
  • Managing insulin
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Mental and emotional support

At one time type 1 diabetes patients had shortened lifespans. Patients today who work closely with their endocrinologist to better manage their condition to live normal lifespans. They still have limitations like frequent blood sugar level checks and injecting themselves with insulin, but most live a reasonably normal life.

If you have diabetes or suspect you have diabetes, Kymera Independent Physicians Endocrinology Team can help. We have been serving SENM for over 22 years. Why not make an appointment today at a location nearest you?


Additional resources to help with your diabetes:

Calendar image with Request an Appointment