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Diabetes: Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2

Diabetes is one of the most common serious chronic illnesses of childhood. Approximately one in 400 children have diabetes.

There are two types, both of which can be managed and children with the condition can lead healthy, active lives.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes (juvenile diabetes) is an autoimmune disorder and often develops in children, adolescents and young adults. The condition occurs when a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood-sugar levels.

Scientists don’t know what causes this autoimmune process to occur, but they believe it is a combination of genetics and environmental causes.

Although Type 1 diabetes cannot be cured, it can be controlled with insulin injections several times a day or an insulin pump.

Insulin Needs

Since people with type 1 diabetes can’t produce their own insulin, they must put insulin into the blood stream through injections or an insulin pump. If they inject too much insulin (or eat too little) they may have a hypoglycemic reaction. Hypoglycemia is the most common problem in children with diabetes. If can be very serious and requires immediate action.

People with type 1 diabetes often struggle to determine how much insulin to inject. It’s not as easy as always eating a certain amount of food or injecting the same amount of insulin. Many factors influence how much insulin people need to get to the desired “perfect balance.” These factors include foods with different absorption rates as well as the effect of stress, illness and exercise. Also, as children grow, their insulin needs change.


Type 1 diabetes symptoms include:

  • urinating a lot (some children wet the bed when they didn't before)
  • being thirsty and drinking a lot of fluids
  • losing weight without trying

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent diabetes) is not the same as type 1 diabetes. The bodies of people with type 2 diabetes may produce insulin, but it may not be enough or may not be able to be used properly. Type 2 diabetes may be treated with pills instead of insulin shots. Type 2 diabetes is usually linked to being overweight and is becoming more common in children ages 10 to 18 years old.


Type 2 diabetes may cause the following symptoms, but most people have no symptoms, often for months or even years:

  • increased urination
  • increased thirst
  • blurry vision
  • unexpected weight gain or weight loss
  • frequent infections - for example, of the skin, gums, or bladder
  • frequent yeast infections of the vagina
  • tiredness
  • infections of the foreskin in uncircumcised males

What Affects Blood Sugar Levels

When looking at blood sugar results, it’s important to look for blood sugar levels that are above or below your target range and also what time of day the pattern occurs.

  • Under 5 years: suggested blood sugar level of 80-180 mg/dl
  • 6 years and older: suggested blood sugar level of 70-140 mg/dl

You also want to consider other things that can cause your blood sugar level to increase or decrease.

What makes blood sugar increase?

  • Foods or drinks with carbohydrates
  • Stress
  • Illness (cold, fever, flu or other infections)

What makes blood sugar decrease?

  • Exercise
  • Insulin
  • Honeymoon phase

Taking Control of Diabetes

Studies have proven that controlling blood sugar levels greatly decreases the chances of developing long-term complications of diabetes such as eye disease, kidney disease and nerve damage. When blood sugar is controlled there is a smaller chance of developing a complication.

Daily testing is one way to monitor control. Testing blood sugar at least four times each day and as needed helps to see where adjustments in insulin or food need to be made.

If you think your child has diabetes, call your healthcare provider.


Learn more about Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes at Children’s Mercy.

Learn more about childhood diabetes and effective diabetes management in school.

Watch this video about how to use a glucometer.