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Type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes: What to know

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DifferencesMedicationsLifestyle strategiesTreatment costsSummary
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have similar symptoms, but there are key differences in determining the best treatment and medication options. 
Medically reviewed by Angelica Balingit, MD
Written by Suan Pineda
Updated on February 27, 2023

Type 1 diabetes is mainly genetic and tends to first appear in children and adolescents. Type 2 diabetes usually appears in adults when the body develops insulin resistance.

Type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes

A person measuring their blood glucose levels.
AzmanJaka/Getty Images

Diabetes is a metabolic condition that causes high blood sugar. About 1 in 10 people in the United States have diabetes. 

While both types affect how your body turns food into energy, type 1 diabetes is mostly a genetic condition. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include diet, physical activity levels, and a higher body mass index (BMI). However, there are also genetic risk factors.

Causes and prevalence

Type 1 diabetes creates an autoimmune reaction that stops your body from making insulin. It’s usually diagnosed in childhood and adolescence and affects 5% to 10% of people with diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes develops over the years, and your body no longer responds to insulin well. This prevents blood sugar levels from remaining at an optimal range. Doctors usually diagnose the condition in adults. Type 2 diabetes affects about 90% to 95% of people with diabetes. 

Symptoms 

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes share similar symptoms, including:

  • intense thirst
  • frequent urination
  • fatigue 
  • blurry vision 
  • cuts and sores that take a long time to heal
  • sudden weight loss
  • irritability 
  • mood changes
  • numbness in hands and feet

While symptoms of type 1 diabetes appear in a matter of weeks, they appear over several years in people with type 2 diabetes. 

Treatment

As your body can’t make its own insulin, type 1 diabetes has no cure. However, there are various ways you can manage the condition.

In select cases, a pancreas transplant has the potential to cure type 1 diabetes, but the selection process can be limited.

With type 2 diabetes, as your body can make its own insulin but can’t use it well, you can take steps to prevent and manage the condition. Sometimes, it can even go into remission

Treatment and management for both types of diabetes involve medication and lifestyle strategies.

Medication for type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes

Medications to treat type 1 and type 2 diabetes are specific to each type. They aim to keep blood sugar within an optimal range to help prevent complications. This protection can help prevent the following:

  • blindness
  • kidney failure
  • nerve damage
  • heart attack
  • stroke 

Type 1 diabetes medications

The most common medication for type 1 diabetes is insulin, administered via injections or a pump. There are several types of insulin:

Another drug to help manage type 1 diabetes is pramlintide (Symlinpen), which you administer via injection.

Learn more about medications to manage type 1 diabetes. 

Type 2 diabetes medications

Drugs to manage type 2 diabetes aim to help your body manage insulin. 

Some of these medications, which can be taken orally or by injection, include:

Some people with type 2 diabetes may also need to take insulin, but you should follow your doctor’s advice on this.

Need a refill for metformin (Glucophage)? You may be able to get an online prescription through Optum Perks in as little as 15 minutes with no video or appointment needed. Learn more here.

Lifestyle strategies to manage diabetes

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you can practice some lifestyle strategies to help manage your blood sugar levels, including:

  • eating a balanced diet
  • exercising for at least 150 minutes per week
  • keeping a moderate weight
  • working with a doctor or healthcare professional to create the best treatment plan for your needs
  • attend all regular and scheduled diabetes checkups
  • following all professional medical guidance

If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

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Cost of treatment

According to the 2018 American Diabetes Association report, medical expenses for people with diabetes totaled around $17,000. However, often the cost of diabetes treatment varies by the insurance plan you have.

In 2022, the government signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act. The act caps the cost of an insulin vial at $35 for people with Medicare. The hope of the Endocrine Society is that this will eventually extend to all those with private medical insurance, allowing more help specifically to children with type 1 diabetes.

Summary

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are conditions that cause high blood sugar levels.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune reaction that stops your body from making insulin, and type 2 diabetes is a condition in which your body doesn’t utilize insulin well. 

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes tend to appear in childhood or adolescence in a short timeframe. Type 2 diabetes tends to appear over several years and usually affects adults.

Exploring lifestyle strategies can benefit both types of diabetes. Medications are specific to each type, but their common goal is keeping blood sugar within optimal range and protecting your organs.

Talk with your healthcare professional to determine the best treatment path and medications based on your individual needs.  

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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