Diabetes Q&A

What is type 1 diabetes? What is type 2 diabetes? Do I have it? Can I get it?

Questions often arise when the subject of diabetes comes up. Diabetes is a disease of the body’s metabolism that is characterized by elevated blood glucose. This can be due to your body’s inability to make insulin or to respond to it in the right way. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes.

Surprisingly, one-fourth of those with diabetes don’t know they have it. Even more concerning is that more than 80 million people have “prediabetes.” This condition puts them at risk of developing diabetes in the future. If these estimates are accurate, there is a very good chance that you already have diabetes or are at risk of developing it in the future.

What are the differences between type 1 diabetes (T1D) and type 2 diabetes (T2D)?

Type 1 Diabetes

  • T1D affects 5–10% of U.S. population.
  • With T1D, the body doesn’t produce insulin
    • Insulin breaks down carbohydrates and changes them into the blood sugar (glucose) your body needs for energy.
    • Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose from the bloodstream into your cells.

T1D often progresses rapidly once it starts, causing the individual to feel very ill over a short period of time. This often leads to hospitalization, diagnostic tests that confirm the disease, and then beginning treatment with insulin. Without insulin, T1D is fatal.

What are the common symptoms of T1D?

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased need to urinate
  • Increased hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Mood changes
  • Fatigue/weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Children who start a new pattern of bedwetting could also signal the onset of T1D.

Type 2 Diabetes

Typically, type 2 diabetes develops slowly over time and gradually worsens. This often results in a delay in diagnosis of around four to six years from when it first started. In the early stages of T2D, there may be no symptoms. Those with early T2D might feel normal and not seek medical attention. 

  • T2D is the most common type of diabetes. 90-95% of Americans with diabetes have T2D.
  • With T2D, a body produces insulin, but doesn’t use it correctly.
  • Some individuals can control their T2D by eating a healthy diet and exercising, while others may need oral medication or insulin.

What are the symptoms of T2D?

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Wounds that won’t heal
  • Changes in vision
  • Unexplained weight loss/gain
  • More frequent infections
  • Burning sensation in fingers/toes, coupled with the loss of sensation
  • A person may have a stroke or a heart attack due to undiagnosed diabetes

Some mistakenly think that type 1 diabetes develops in childhood and that type 2 diabetes develops in adulthood, but that is false. The incidence of type 2 diabetes in obese children and adolescents is rising at an alarming rate.

What is autoimmune diabetes?

Adults who did not have diabetes in childhood can also develop autoimmune diabetes (type 1A)—which affects pancreatic beta cells and leads to an inability to make insulin—just like those who were diagnosed with T1D in childhood. These adults should be diagnosed and offered insulin early, as many of the initial therapies for type 2 diabetes involve things other than insulin. This might change some of our perceptions about “adult-onset” diabetes—helping us realize how type 1A presents itself and how it is treated.

What is prediabetes?

Being screened (tested) at age 45 for T2D could reveal if you have “prediabetes,” for which there aren’t clear-cut symptoms. If you find you have prediabetes—an indicator that you are headed toward full-fledged T2D—you should be checked for T2D every one to two years.

If you are diagnosed as prediabetic, lifestyle changes can be implemented to prevent or delay the onset of T2D.

These include:

  • Weight management
  • Regular exercise
  • Stop smoking
  • Monitor blood pressure
  • Regular blood sugar testing

If a person has one or more risk factors for diabetes, testing should be considered at an earlier age or carried out more frequently.

Risk factors for T2D include:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Physical inactivity
  • Previously identified prediabetes
  • Hypertension
  • HDL cholesterol < 35 and/or a triglyceride level of > 250
  • History of gestational diabetes or delivery of a baby weighing greater than 9 pounds
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome

For overweight children and adolescents with additional risk factors, screening can be done every two years starting at age 10 or at the onset of puberty, whichever comes first.

Your medical provider can answer questions about diabetes and suggest additional resources., These may include individuals who can help with meal planning, nutrition education, exercise plans, medication management, and mental health counseling.

Visit the American Diabetes Association website to learn all about diabetes. There is also an easy, online diabetes risk test that only takes about 60 seconds to complete. If you have concerns about diabetes, please take this test and make an appointment to discuss the results with your medical provider or a provider at Glacial Ridge Health System.

Infographic: Diabetes and the Human Body. It shows how each area of the body is impacted by diabetes and how properly managing diabetes can help improve your health.