Understanding the difference between type 1 and 2 diabetes

Diabetes is a condition where your blood sugar level is too high.  High levels of glucose in the blood can cause symptoms which can lead to complications.  However with early detection, treatment and management you can live a healthy life and reduce the risk of complications.  

Insulin is an integral part of controlling sugar levels in the body. Insulin is made by the beta cells in the pancreas and helps us regulate blood sugar levels and keep them within the normal range.  After you eat food, blood sugar levels rise and the beta cells in the pancreas are signalled to release insulin into the blood stream.  The insulin helps the cells absorb glucose, reducing the blood sugar levels.    If your pancreas does not produce insulin or your cells are resistant to the effects of insulin the blood sugar levels will rise.

There are two main types of diabetes, Type1 and Type 2. In the UK 90% of adults with diabetes have Type 2.
  • Type 1 diabetes is insulin deficiency caused by autoimmune destruction of the beta cells in the pancreas. Therefore very little or no insulin is produced by the pancreas and blood sugar levels remain high.  There are both environmental and genetic factors that predispose to this condition.  Treatment is with Insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes is characterised by insufficient production of insulin or the body’s inability to effectively use insulin, known as insulin resistance causing hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar levels).

Prediabetes is a condition where your blood sugars are high but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.  If undiagnosed or untreated prediabetes can develop into Type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is an indication that important lifestyle changes need to be made to prevent diabetes.  A healthy balanced diet, appropriate physical exercise, addressing obesity and keeping at a healthy weight can help bring your blood sugars into the normal range and can help prevent the development of diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes include feeling very thirsty, passing urine very often, fatigue, weight loss or weight gain, slow healing wounds, recurrent thrush (fungal infection) and blurred vision.

Diagnosis is by a simple blood test and if you have symptoms you should seek medical attention as early detection can avoid complications.  Some people do not have symptoms but may be at risk of diabetes, a blood test can also screen for prediabetes.   Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include obesity, a family history, and is more common in people of South Asian descent and African-Caribbean descent. Complications of diabetes include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, and kidney and eye damage.

Treatment of type 2 diabetes includes lifestyle changes, weight loss, healthy diet and increasing physical activity, diabetes medication (such as metformin) and insulin therapy.  There are many new advances in medication and managing diabetes.

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