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Type 1 vs Type 2 diabetes

What are the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes? Discover what’s happening in your body, symptoms and how to manage the disease.

What are the different types of diabetes?

There are three main types of diabetes – type 1, type 2 and gestational. It is estimated that 537 million people have diabetes worldwide. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common, accounting for over 90% of those cases1.

Gestational diabetes is when you develop high blood sugar during pregnancy, which can happen because of hormone changes that occur in your body during this time1.

Learn more on gestational diabetes here. There is also a form of diabetes called latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). The symptoms are similar to type 1 and type 2, but LADA generally presents a bit later on and symptoms develop slower than in type 1 diabetes, but faster than type 2 diabetes. People with LADA also tend to be a healthy weight. LADA, sometimes called type 1.5 diabetes, is not classified as a separate type of diabetes, falling somewhere between type 1 and type 2. If you have LADA you will usually start taking a form of oral medication called metformin, and move onto insulin as your blood sugar levels start to go up. Research into LADA is ongoing and there currently isn’t a definite, agreed way of managing the condition2.

Type 1 vs type 2 diabetes: What are the differences?

You can develop type 1 diabetes at any age, although it tends to be more common in children and young adults. It occurs when your immune system attacks itself and destroys cells in your pancreas that make insulin. As a result, your body can’t make insulin, or makes very little, and without insulin your body can’t process blood sugar. Instead of being absorbed into your cells and used as energy, this blood sugar builds up in your bloodstream, damaging the body and leading to diabetes symptoms and complications1. Diet and lifestyle habits do not cause type 1 diabetes3. Familial genetics can play a role in the development of this condition in some cases, but this is not fully understood4.

Type 1 vs Type 2 diabetes - Type 2 diabetes differs from type 1 diabetes in that you do produce insulin, but your body does not use it properly – this is called insulin resistance. As a result, your body needs more insulin to help absorb blood glucose into your cells. At first, your pancreas makes more insulin to compensate for this, but over time the pancreas can’t make enough insulin and your blood glucose levels rise. Lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise or having overweight can be a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes5.

What puts you at risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Experts still do not know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes; however, the following are thought to be linked:

  • Genetics: There is not one single gene that can be inherited. It is thought a number of genes increase the chance of developing type 1 diabetes4.
  • Environmental factors: The rates of type 1 diabetes are increasing, suggesting environmental factors contribute to disease development; however, lifestyle and weight are not thought to be linked4
  • Viral infection: The gut microbiome and childhood diet may all play a part; however, research is ongoing4.
  • Age: While people of all ages can have type 1 diabetes, it is more commonly diagnosed in children and those under the age of 406.

There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, including7:

  • Family history: If another family member is living with diabetes7.
  • Ethnic background: If you are of South Asian, African-Caribbean or Black African descent7.
  • Age: If you are over the age of 407.
  • Weight: If you are living with obesity or are overweight7.

Type 1 vs type 2 diabetes: What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can vary from person to person8
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes

Symptoms in type 2 diabetes can be the same as above1, but could also include:

  • Itching around your penis or vagina, or repeatedly getting thrush9
  • Cuts or wounds taking longer to heal9

Diabetes symptoms can be similar for both type 1 and type 2, but in general, symptoms for type 2 diabetes can be a lot less noticeable, or you may not experience any, which can result in a delayed or missed diagnosis1. While symptoms for type 1 diabetes tend to appear quickly, those for type 2 diabetes can appear more slowly, which can also lead to them being missed6.

Find out more about diabetes symptoms here.

Type 1 vs type 2 diabetes: What are the treatments?

People living with type 1 diabetes require daily insulin injections to manage their condition. In contrast, treatment options for type 2 diabetes focus on lifestyle changes; if these are not enough to manage blood glucose levels, medication may also be required1

Type 1 diabetes

As people living with type 1 diabetes make little to no insulin, daily insulin injections are required to help manage blood glucose levels. You can live a healthy life, and delay or prevent diabetes-related complications if you monitor your blood glucose, visit a healthcare professional regularly, and get support from family and/or loved ones1,3. To find out more about treatment for type 1 diabetes, read our article here.


A key part of treating type 2 diabetes is trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, which may include following a healthy and balanced diet, taking part in regular physical activity, avoiding smoking and trying to maintain a healthy body weight1.


Most people with type 2 diabetes do not require insulin therapy but, if lifestyle changes aren’t enough, they may require medications such as metformin, glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs), dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors (DDP-4is), sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors (SGLT-2is) or insulin1.

To find out more about treatment of type 2 diabetes, read our article here.

One-third to half of people with type 2 diabetes may be undiagnosed1

January 2024.  IE23DI00189

  1. International Diabetes Federation. IDF Atlas 10th Edition, 2021. Available from: https://diabetesatlas.org/idfawp/resource files/2021/07/IDF_Atlas_10th_Edition_2021.pdf Last accessed: October 2022.
  2. Diabetes UK. Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA). Available from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/other-types-of-diabetes/latent-autoimmune-diabetes Last accessed: October 2022.
  3. CDC. What is type 1 diabetes? Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/what-is-type-1-diabetes.html#:~:text=What%20Causes%20Type%201%20Diabetes,years%20before%20any%20symptoms%20appear Last accessed: October 2022.
  4. Diabetes UK. Research spotlight - what causes type 1 diabetes? Available from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/research/research-round-up/research-spotlight/research-spotlight-what-causes-type-1-diabetes Last accessed: October 2022.
  5. NIDDK. Symptoms & causes of diabetes. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/symptoms-causes#:~:text=Overweight%2C%20obesity%2C%20and%20physical%20inactivity,fat%20also%20makes%20a%20difference Last accessed: October 2022.
  6. Diabetes UK. Differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Available from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/differences-between-type-1-and-type-2-diabetes Last accessed: October 2022.
  7. Diabetes UK. Diabetes risk factors. Available from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/preventing-type-2-diabetes/diabetes-risk-factors Last accessed: October 2022.
  8. NHS. Diabetic ketoacidosis. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetic-ketoacidosis/ Last accessed: October 2022.
  9. NHS UK. Type 2 diabetes. Symptoms. Available from:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms/ Last accessed: October 2022.


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