Erin Sandberg
Nov 9, 2018 · 4 min read

Curious about the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes? This American Diabetes Month is a great time to learn. Read on to get the facts.

In the U.S., more than 30 million people live with diabetes. That’s more than the entire state populations of New York and New Jersey combined. Among those, about 5% live with type 1 diabetes, and about 95% live with type 2 diabetes.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Everyone needs insulin in their bodies to help them store and convert glucose from the food they eat into energy. Without insulin, your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels get too high. Type 1 diabetes occurs when a person’s immune system destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that create insulin. Since their bodies do not make insulin, people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin regularly, either by injection or an insulin pump. Type 1 diabetes can be treated, but it can’t be prevented.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when a person is able to create their own insulin, but their body does not use it properly (insulin resistance), or their pancreas doesn’t create enough of it to keep blood sugar levels normal. Type 2 diabetes can be treated and can sometimes be prevented too.

Which is worse?

Neither type is better or worse. Each case is unique, and both types require ongoing treatment. Both types also share similar complications if not managed well, including diabetic coma, high blood pressure, nerve damage, blindness, heart attack, amputation and more.

How are both types diagnosed?

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are diagnosed with a test called a glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This blood test measures your blood sugar levels over the previous three months. An A1C level of 6.5 or higher indicates diabetes. Your doctor could also order a fasting or random blood sugar test instead of an A1C test.

How is diabetes treatment handled for each type?

Blood glucose monitoring
One of the most important things people with either type of diabetes need to do is measure and monitor their blood sugar. These measurements can show you how well you’re managing your condition, and can give you clues about how different things, like certain foods, physical activity, and medication, affect your blood sugar levels.

Diet and exercise
Another common way people manage their diabetes is by eating a healthy diet and getting enough physical activity. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics should strive for a healthy diet of whole grains, lean protein, and fruit and vegetables — and smaller amounts of refined carbohydrates and saturated fats. While there isn’t one specific diabetic food list, there are some foods that are more diabetic-friendly than others. The American Diabetes Association has a handy list of diabetes superfoods.

Insulin and medication
Doctors often also prescribe treatments like insulin or medication. People with type 1 diabetes use insulin, while only some with type 2 diabetes use insulin. Types of injectable insulin include Insulin lispro (Humalog), Insulin isophane (Humulin) and Insulin glargine (Basaglar KwikPen).

It’s more common for people with type 2 diabetes to use prescription medications (pills) to manage their blood sugar levels. Metformin is the first-line medication for patients living with type 2 diabetes and works by decreasing the amount of glucose absorbed from food as well as the amount of sugar made by the liver. If metformin and a healthy diet don’t work to control blood glucose levels, doctors can prescribe second-line medications including sulfonylureas (glipizide, glimepiride and glyburide), meglitinides (nateglinide and repaglinide), thiazolidinediones (pioglitazone and rosiglitazone) and DPP-4 inhibitors (sitagliptin phosphate and saxagliptin), GLP-1 receptor agonists (exenatide and liraglutide), SGLT2 inhibitors (canagliflozin and dapagliflozin) and insulin.

This article is not medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician or dial 911.

Blink Health is not insurance. The Discount Prescription Drug Plan Organization is Blink Health Administration, LLC, 233 Spring Street, 8th Floor East, New York, NY 10013, (844) 366–2211,,


Healthcare and the prescription drug industry are complicated. That’s why Blink Unscripted is here. To help you understand it a little better so you can get and do what you need to be healthy.

Erin Sandberg

Written by

Writer at Blink Health, seeking to help people understand and navigate the prescription drug landscape // Master of Science in Health Communication


Healthcare and the prescription drug industry are complicated. That’s why Blink Unscripted is here. To help you understand it a little better so you can get and do what you need to be healthy.

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