Coping with a Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis
5 Ways Type 1 Diabetes Is Different From Type 2
When people hear that you have diabetes, they start to make assumptions that aren't always accurate. A lot of the confusion stems from the fact that there are two main types, yet many people don't understand how they're different. (Want to pick up some healthier habits? Sign up to get daily healthy living tips delivered straight to your inbox!)
As someone with type 1 diabetes—I was diagnosed with it nearly 40 years ago—I'm all too familiar with the disease. I lived with it as a child, teen, and adult, and when I decided to have kids I had to figure out how to manage the condition while being pregnant. (I even wrote a book about it,Balancing Pregnancy With Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby.)
Having type 1 diabetes means I'm in the minority: Of the approximately 29 million Americans who have diabetes, only 1.25 million have type 1. Most have type 2, which is a totally different form.
"Comparing type 1 to type 2 is like comparing apples to tractors," says Gary Scheiner, a Pennsylvania-based certified diabetes educator and author of . "The only thing they really have in common is that both involve an inability to control blood sugar levels." Here are 5 important distinctions.
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1. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease; type 2 isn't.
Diabetes happens when your body has trouble with insulin, a hormone that helps convert sugar from the food you eat into energy. When there isn’t enough insulin in your body, sugar builds up in the bloodstream and can make you sick.
People with type 1 and type 2 both face this problem, but how they arrived there is quite different. If you have type 1, you don't make any insulin at all. That's because type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-making cells in your pancreas. No one knows exactly what causes it, but genetics likely play a role.
People with type 2 make insulin, but they either don't make enough or they have difficulty using what they make efficiently. Major risk factors for type 2 include obesity (especially if you carry excess weight around your stomach) and being sedentary. Having a family history raises your risk as well.
2. Taking insulin is a must for everyone with type 1; treatment for type 2 varies.
Since people with type 1 don't make any insulin, they need to take daily injections or wear an insulin pump that attaches to their body. Without insulin, they will die.
With type 2 there's a greater range of treatment options. You might be told just to monitor your diet, get more exercise, and lose some weight, but most people with type 2 diabetes also take pills that prompt the body to make more insulin and/or lower blood sugar levels. If these efforts don't work and the disease gets worse, you may need to turn to insulin injections.
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3. Dangerously low blood sugar is more common with type 1.
High blood sugar is dangerous, but is so low blood sugar (hypoglycemia): It may cause weakness, dizziness, sweating, and shakiness. In severe cases, it can make you pass out and can even be life-threatening.
While anyone can experience a low, it's much more common in those with type 1. That's because you need to carefully calculate how much insulin to take (via injection or pump) based on your food intake and activity level. Figuring this out isn't always easy, and taking more insulin than you need can make blood sugar levels plummet. Exercise, although healthy, can also cause low blood sugar.
If you develop symptoms of hypoglycemia, you need to take action to quickly raise your blood sugar. That might mean drinking a glass of juice, eating a few hard candies, or reaching for a glucose-containing tablet or gel.
4. Eating sugary foods might be more risky if you have type 2.
Surprised? Although it's not smart for anyone to gorge themselves on candy, "people with type 1 can generally eat what they want if they match the insulin dosing," says Scheiner. So if you're planning to go to a birthday party, you can simply take more insulin to combat the sugar rush from the cake.
If you have type 2, you may need to be a bit more careful about food. Most people with type 2 aren't taking insulin, and if you're not it means you don't have an easy way to counteract what you're eating. Type 2 is also closely linked with obesity, and eating lots of sweets can easily lead to weight gain.
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5. Type 1 is usually diagnosed in kids; type 2 tends to strike later.
Although it's possible to develop type 1 as an adult, it's much more common to find out you have it during childhood. (That's why it used to be called juvenile diabetes.) Type 2, on the other hand, becomes more likely as you get older: Your risk goes up after age 45.
Regardless of when you find out you have diabetes—or what kind you have—it's important to take it seriously. Many people think that type 1 is the "bad" kind and that type 2 is just a minor inconvenience, but both can lead to serious complications like blindness, amputations, and kidney failure. The upshot is that it's possible to live a long, healthy life with either form of the disease. Taking your medication as directed, frequently monitoring your blood sugar levels, eating well, exercising, and getting stress in check are all key.
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