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What are Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes? Finally! An easy explanation.

What are the different types of diabetes? One of the questions we get asked a lot on Diabetic South Africans is about the different types of diabetes. There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. Here’s some basic information about the differences between the different types. Let us know if you have any other questions in the comments below!

type 1 and type 2 diabetes


Type 1 diabetes

  • Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas stops producing insulin.
  • The diabetes diagnosis is often very sudden and dramatic, usually in hospital.
  • If you look after yourself, though, it is possible to thrive after a Type 1 diagnosis.
  • All Type 1 diabetics have to take insulin injections with every meal (and before going to bed). Some Type 1 diabetics use a pump instead of injections.

Type 1 diabetes is most common in children or youth under 30, but more and more older people are being diagnosed as Type 1s.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition. It is not caused by eating the wrong food, or eating too much sugar, or being overweight.

Type 1 diabetes is not hereditary (it doesn’t run in the family), but it is genetic (it lives in your genes). Remember that diabetes is a self-managed condition. Good diabetes management often comes down to the right attitude and approach to living with a chronic condition – here’s some advice from a few decades of living with Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes

  • Type 2 diabetes is the more common type of diabetes: 90% of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes.
  • It is hereditary (it runs in families).
  • Type 2 diabetes is often called a lifestyle disease, because it can be caused by being overweight or obese, eating the wrong kind of food and not exercising.
  • It can be reversed by losing weight if necessary, eating healthy food and exercising. Here’s how to reverse Type 2 diabetes.

Do you have to change your lifestyle to manage Type 2 diabetes? Yes. But if you do, you can live a long and healthy life.

Type 2 diabetes, also known as diabetes 2 or sugar diabetes (in South Africa) is most common in adults. That said, large numbers of children are being diagnosed (usually if they are overweight and not active). People who are overweight or who have diabetes in their family are more at risk and may need to lose weight. Here are some helpful tips on how to manage Type 2 diabetes, including weight loss tips, portion control and how to choose the right kinds of food.

The medication for Type 2 diabetes is usually tablets followed by insulin injections at a later date if necessary. Sometimes, Type 2 diabetes medication can cause diarrhea (upset stomach), but if you take it at night this is less of a problem.

gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes

  • Gestational diabetes is a condition of high blood sugar levels during pregnancy.
  • Women with gestational diabetes are at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Like Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes can often be controlled with diet and exercise, although  it will sometimes need medication.
  • If gestational diabetes is undiagnosed, it can harm the baby – it’s important to get checked for gestational diabetes during pregnancy (usually at the beginning of the third trimester).

Other types of diabetes

There is also a fourth type of diabetes, known as LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes) or Type 1.5 diabetes. This is a condition where Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in adults, who would more often be candidates for Type 2. It has all the same characteristics as Type 1 diabetes, except that it is diagnosed much later.

What type of diabetes do you have? Were you told clearly when you were diagnosed?

What to read next?

Type 2 diabetes risk factors: Spend 1 minute watching this video and you’ll know if you’re at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Eat healthy for diabetes: The one diabetes and diet article you need to read.

How to reverse Type 2 diabetes: A step-by-step guide to how to reverse Type 2.

Photo by Mark Claus on Unsplash

What to read next
Join South Africans with Diabetes on Facebook

Join our diabetes community


  1. […] Siyakwamukela. Njengoba usafuna ulwazi nokuthola mayelana nezinhlobo ezahlukene ngaso lesifo the different types of diabetes, nokuthi usichaze kanjani kubantu. Kungasiza ukuthi ube nolwazi oluphelele mayelana nalesifo. […]

  2. […] pad vir jouself gekies het nie. ’n Beter begrip van hoe dit werk, sal jou help om te verstaan wat die verskillende tipes diabetes behels – en hoe om dit aan mense te verduidelik. Hier gaan ons … Enige vrae? Stuur ’n e-pos […]

  3. […] if there is anyone with MODY here? Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in January, Type 1.5 diabetes in June, and MODY yesterday. But my case was described as a curious case indeed by the specialist, […]

  4. […] By the time I started seeing the endocrinologist, I had a hard time understanding the treatment regimen he chose for me, which was pre-mixed insulin. I think my confusion and suspicion of my diagnosis came from the fact that I had been doing a lot of reading on the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. […]

  5. […] eating large amounts of added sugar in your everyday foods may increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, sugar intake alone is just one piece of the puzzle. And when it comes to Type 1 diabetes, it’s […]

  6. […] conversation , we asked clinical psychologist Daniel Sher to join us. Daniel has been living with Type 1 diabetes since he was a baby, so he has a deep understanding of what it’s like to juggle the many demands […]

  7. […] was. I was always lethargic, thirsty, urinating and sleeping all the time. My grandmother who had Type 2 diabetes asked to check my blood sugar. And so we did and I was shocked that my reading was 25mmol/l. The […]

  8. […] Community has been that we’re all in this together. It doesn’t matter if you have Type 1 or Type 2 or gestational or LADA or MODY or if you’re the carer of someone with diabetes or you work […]

  9. […] All I can remember is that I told my mom I kept finishing all my orange juice (I drank quite a bit)  and it was very unusual, I also went to the loo a lot. When we got home my brother – who has Type 1 diabetes – tested me and I was high. That’s how I found out I was diabetic. […]

  10. […] and tested. His sugar was 30mmol/L and we rushed him to the doctor – they confirmed Type 1 diabetes just like his dad. At first I was worried as I did not know how to handle this with a child… […]

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.