Diabetes Week: The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2


Diabetes Week is an annual campaign that raises awareness of Diabetes and helps fund vital research.

The condition is on the rise in the UK, with approximately 3.8 million people now diagnosed. It’s estimated that almost 1 million people are also living with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, bringing the total to 4.7 million. By 2030, this is predicted to rise to 5.5 million.

Although it is relatively common, there is still confusion and misinformation about diabetes, especially around its two main forms – type 1 and type 2.

What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition that causes glucose levels in the blood to become too high. In non-diabetic individuals, a hormone called insulin helps break down the glucose into energy. In diabetic people, this system doesn’t work properly, resulting in a build-up of glucose in the blood.

With type 1 diabetes, this build-up is caused by the body’s immune system attacking and destroying the cells that produce insulin. With type 2 diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or is not using insulin effectively.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are serious conditions. The causes of type 1 diabetes are largely unknown, whereas type 2 diabetes is thought to be caused by a combination of genes and lifestyle factors. Type 2 is the more common form, accounting for around 90% of all diabetes diagnoses. Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes is mostly preventable.

Diagnosing diabetes: what are the symptoms?

The symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be very similar. You should see a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Genital itching or repeated cases of thrush
  • Cuts and wounds that heal slowly
  • Blurred vision

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can develop very quickly – over a few days or weeks – especially in children and young adults. Type 2 symptoms tend to develop more slowly, often over the course of months or years. As a result, type 2 symptoms can be harder to recognise, meaning people often live with the condition for years before they are diagnosed.

Living with a diabetes diagnosis

As people with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin, they require daily doses of the hormone. This is usually administered with an injection or via an insulin pump, which is attached to the body to provide a constant supply. Type 1 diabetics also need to check their blood glucose level several times a day and balance their insulin doses with their dietary intake. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can also help people manage the condition.

Type 2 diabetes is mostly managed by adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly and losing excess weight. In some cases, medication may eventually be required to reduce blood glucose levels. Some type 2 diabetics also require insulin.

Early detection and treatment are important for both types of diabetes, as over time the condition can seriously damage the heart, eyes, kidneys and feet. Diabetes can also cause strokes and damage the nervous system, which increases the risk of amputation.

A diabetes diagnosis can be scary, but with the right treatment and lifestyle adjustments, most people with diabetes can live healthy lives and significantly reduce the risk of complications.

Preventing type 2 diabetes

The good news about type 2 diabetes is that it is largely preventable. Most people exhibit pre-diabetic symptoms before they are diagnosed. This means a person’s blood glucose level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classed as diabetic. If treatment starts at the pre-diabetic stage, full-blown type 2 diabetes can be prevented.

An estimated 12.3 million people in the UK are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A family history of type 2 increases its likelihood, which is something people can’t change. However, other factors put you at greater risk, including:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having an unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking

Maintaining a healthy weight and diet, exercising regularly and avoiding smoking can therefore help to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Getting help

If you are experiencing symptoms of diabetes or think that you may be at risk of developing it, you should see a GP as soon as possible. You can also check out the EBPCOOH blog for more advice on topics like preventing type 2 diabetes.