When you say “diabetes,” most people think that it’s one thing–but it’s not. The assumption that diabetes is one thing and one thing only is not anybody’s fault; there’s not a lot of common knowledge about the different types of diabetes and what the differences are. Type 1 and 2 diabetes aren’t that different, and it can be confusing to tell them apart considering that the differences aren’t discussed much. So why not learn about the differences from someone who has been explaining them to others since she was five?
As a type 1 diabetic, I have to test my blood, change my insulin pump, and drink juice at certain times. While these activities are more than mundane to me, I find myself explaining what I am doing to other people a lot. After I get out the first explanation, “I’m a type 1 diabetic,” I almost always hear back a “Oh! My (family member/friend) has that too.” Nine times out of ten, that person is not a type 1 diabetic, but a type 2 diabetic. They are very easy to confuse, as both types of diabetes can be contracted at any age and can include the treatment of insulin. However, in the interest of the general public’s knowledge, here is an introduction to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Because I am biased, I will start off with type 1. Type 1 diabetes has also been referred to as “juvenile diabetes” due to its tendency to show up in children; however, this term is being phased out for the more inclusive “type 1” which recognizes its ability to manifest at any age. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself, specifically the pancreas. The pancreas creates insulin, so when the pancreas is attacked it slows, or even stops, insulin production. The decrease in insulin leads to high blood glucose (or blood sugar) which can lead to many problematic things including kidney damage, eye damage, heart and blood vessel disease, and Alzheimer’s (Mayo Clinic). This is why, before the discovery of insulin, type 1 was usually a terminal illness. However, type 1 is no longer nearly as deadly and there are many new and improved ways of treating it, such as insulin pumps, diets, and continuous glucose monitors. Even with all of this medical progress, once diagnosed, type 1 diabetics will have to deal with the disease for the rest of their lives.
Type 2 diabetes is when your body has developed an insulin resistance. This form of diabetes is treatable with exercise, change in diet, and a number of drugs. Type 2 diabetics usually have less intense treatment plans because their bodies still produce insulin. However, this does not mean they have it “easier.” Type 2 diabetics have the same risks of complications with high blood glucose as type 1 diabetics. Type 2 diabetics also make up a significant part of the diabetic population, approximately 90-95% (CDC). This high percentage of type 2 diabetics explains why many people don’t know about type 1, and just think there is only one type of diabetes.
So how are they different and why should you care? While type 1 and type 2 are similar, the two types of diabetes are also different enough that it is important to know which one you and other people are referring to. The main difference is really simple; type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and there currently is no cure or way to prevent it. Type 2, on the other hand, is developed insulin resistance that can be “prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes” (CDC). Since insulin prices are in the news more and more frequently, it’s important to remember there is more than just type 2 and to consider who’s affected by different policies. It’s also important to spread awareness of type 1 and think about diabetes as a broader topic. It is not good for type 1 and type 2 to be generalized into “diabetes,” as they are different and each deserves their own conversation. Finally, it’s also unfair to expect people to explain which version of diabetes they have and what each of them means. While I am fine doing that, it does not mean everyone is, and having diabetes doesn’t necessarily make someone an expert.
At the end of the day, remember: “diabetes” is a broad term and includes other types I’ve not included here (like gestational diabetes), so if you have a question or want more in-depth information, below are some resources to help you.