Diabetes: Differences Between Type 1 and 2

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Diabetes: Differences Between Type 1 and 2

Topic Overview

In general, people with diabetes either have a total lack of insulin (type 1 diabetes) or they have too little insulin or cannot use insulin effectively (type 2 diabetes).

  • Type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes), accounts for 5% to 10% of all people with diabetes.1 In type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system destroys the cells that release insulin, eventually eliminating insulin production from the body. Without insulin, cells cannot absorb sugar (glucose), which they need to produce energy.
  • Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset or non–insulin-dependent diabetes) can develop at any age, but most commonly becomes apparent during adulthood. But the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children is rising. Type 2 diabetes accounts for the vast majority of people with diabetes—90% to 95%. In contrast to type 1 diabetes, insulin resistance is the main characteristic of type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance refers to the body's inability to respond properly to insulin. Resistance develops because of many factors, including genetics, obesity, increasing age, and having high blood sugar for a long time.

How are these diseases different?

Differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes Type 2 diabetes
Symptoms usually start in childhood or young adulthood. People often seek medical help because they are seriously ill from sudden symptoms of high blood sugar. The person may not have symptoms before diagnosis. Usually the disease is discovered in adulthood, but an increasing number of children are being diagnosed with the disease.
Episodes of low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia) are common. There are no episodes of low blood sugar level, unless the person is taking insulin or certain oral diabetes medicines.
It cannot be prevented. It can be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight, eating sensibly, and exercising regularly.

How are they alike?

Both types of diabetes greatly increase a person's risk for a range of serious complications. Although monitoring and management of the disease can prevent complications, diabetes remains the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure. It also continues to be a critical risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and foot or leg amputations.

Related Information



  1. Health Canada (2002). Diabetes in Canada, 2nd ed. Ottawa: Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, Health Canada Population and Public Health Branch. Available online: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/dic-dac2/english/01cover_e.html.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
Last Revised December 7, 2010

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