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Do I Have Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes?

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
October 17, 2023
October 19, 2023

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Both lead to other chronic problems if not well controlled, and both have similar symptoms. So what’s the difference?

Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes

Although type 1 and type 2 diabetes both have things in common, there are lots of differences. Like what causes them, who they affect, and how you should manage them. 

For a start, type 1 affects 8% of everyone with diabetes. While type 2 diabetes affects about 90%.

Type 1 Diabetes

People with Type 1 Diabetes do not make their own insulin. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease where your immune system mistakenly attacks the beta cells in your pancreas. By destroying these cells, you lose the ability to make insulin. 

Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but usually appears in childhood and adolescence. The onset of Type 1 diabetes tends to be sudden, which often develops over a few weeks. 

If you have type 1, your A1C will usually be very high, and blood sugars will be uncontrolllable even with a strict diet. Insulin is necessary to bring energy from the food into your cells to survive.  Without insulin, the body will lose weight, lose muscle, develop severe symptoms, and can even die.

For this reason, the medication that is always necessary to treat type 1 diabetes is insulin.

Type 2 Diabetes

People diagnosed with Type 2, or non-insulin-dependent, Diabetes, will still have working beta cells in their pancreas, and still make insulin, but instead, other parts of their body do not see or accept insulin.

While type 1 usually develops early in life from genetic heritage, type 2 is mainly lifestyle-related and develops over time, later in life.

Type 2 symptoms can be easier to miss because they appear more slowly. So you may have rising glucose and pre-diabetes  for months or years before you even realize it.

But Type 2 can be managed with more than just insulin, if it is caught soon enough. Oral medications, exercise and diet. People with type 2 may also lose pancreatic beta cell function over time, and as a result, they may need both oral medications and insulin to properly manage their diabetes.

So Which Do You Have?

If you can control your blood sugars with just diet, exercise, and/or oral medications, you likely have type 2.

But if you need insulin, and you have since a young age, then you likely are Type 1.

There are some other, less common situations, like Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA), which is a slow progression into Type 1 which requires special testing for diagnosis.

Talk to your doctor to be sure of your diagnosis, and get extra testing if necessary.


While you can manage type 2 diabetes in more ways than type 1, both, if uncontrolled, will damage other organs and lead to severe symptoms and irreversible damage. In any scenario, eat healthfully, exercise regularly, and take your medications as prescribed. Troubleshooting Diabetes takes finesse, diligence, and also critical thinking. Don’t struggle with it alone. Talk to your care team and doctor to help you. And if you need more advanced help, ask your doctor to refer you for a Medical Nutrition Therapy visit with one of our Certified Diabetes Specialists. We are always in your corner, ready to help!

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