Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is more common than type 1 diabetes with about 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes having T2D. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the US population have diabetes.1 More alarming, an estimated 84 million more American adults have prediabetes, which if not treated, will advance to diabetes within five years.1
There are several key differences between type 2 diabetes and type 1 diabetes.
The most important difference involves the role of insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store for future use. Insulin helps keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).
People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce any insulin at all. People with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin, however, the cells in the muscles, liver and fat tissue are inefficient at absorbing the insulin and cannot regulate glucose well. As a result, the body tries to compensate by having the pancreas pump out more insulin. But the pancreas slowly loses the ability to produce enough insulin, and as a result, the cells don’t get the energy they need to function properly.
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, meaning that the longer someone has it, the more “help” they will need to manage blood glucose levels. This may require more medications and eventually, injected insulin could be needed.
People with T2D produce insulin, but their bodies don’t use it correctly; this is referred to as being insulin resistant. People with type 2 diabetes may also be unable to produce enough insulin to handle the glucose in their body. In these instances, insulin is needed to allow the glucose to travel from the bloodstream into our cells, where it’s used to create energy.
Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes because it was diagnosed mainly in adults who did not require insulin to manage their condition. However, because more children are starting to be diagnosed with T2D, and insulin is used more frequently to help manage type 2 diabetes, referring to the condition as “adult-onset” or “non-insulin dependent” is no longer accurate.
Type 2 diabetes is usually associated with being overweight (BMI greater than 25), and is harder to control when food choices are not adjusted, and you get no physical activity. And while it’s true that too much body fat and physical inactivity (being sedentary) does increase the likelihood of developing type 2, even people who are fit and trim can develop this type of diabetes.2,3
Being told that you have diabetes can be frightening. It is a chronic condition that you will need to deal with for the rest of your life, but it doesn’t have to define your life. There are many sources for help at every step of the way, from initial diagnosis to living with the condition for decades.2,3
It is also important to stay updated about new diabetes treatment and new research. Because diabetes changes the longer you have it, staying open to learning along the way will make it easier to cope and manage for you and your family.
Learn all you can about how best to manage your diabetes—which you can do here on EndocrineWeb—and be proactive in taking good care of you.