Is It Possible For Type 2 Diabetes To Turn Into Type 1 Diabetes?

In the United States alone, 37.3 million people¹ have diabetes, of which 90% to 95% have type 2 diabetes while only around 5% have type 1. 

Despite both conditions being related to high blood sugar levels, they have significant differences. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, while type 2 diabetes is usually lifestyle-related.

Many people don’t understand the difference between the two conditions and worry about one turning into another. While this can’t happen, it’s possible for them to coexist.

Let’s take a closer look at these conditions and the possibility of developing both.

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What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that prevents your body from producing insulin to help turn glucose into energy. The lack of insulin causes glucose to build up in your bloodstream (hyperglycemia). This condition is highly damaging to the body.

This type of diabetes usually develops at a young age, usually between 4 and 6 years old or between 10 and 14 years old. However, it’s possible to develop type 1 diabetes later in life. 

There is currently no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. However, it’s possible to alleviate the symptoms by making lifestyle changes and managing blood sugar levels with diet and medication.  

Causes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body initiates an autoimmune reaction. It mistakenly believes that insulin-producing cells in your pancreas are a threat to your health. So, the immune system begins destroying these cells.

Some people may have a genetic predisposition to type 1 diabetes. Research² shows that if you have HLA-DR3 or HLA-DR4 genes, you are more likely to develop the condition. However, having these genes doesn’t always mean that you’ll develop diabetes.

Eating habits and other lifestyle choices don’t cause type 1 diabetes.

Symptoms

The process of pancreas cell destruction is usually slow. It can take months or even years for the first symptoms to appear. The common symptoms of type 1 diabetes are:

  • Frequent urination

  • Excessive thirst and hunger, even if you’ve had enough to eat or drink

  • Fatigue

  • Blurry vision

  • Weight loss even though you are eating enough

When you have type 1 diabetes, wounds and cuts usually take longer to heal. If you don’t manage your blood sugar levels, you could experience severe symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis. They include:

  • Fruit-smelling breath

  • Dry skin

  • Fast breathing

  • Headache and muscle aches

  • Muscle stiffness

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Stomach pain

In some cases, diabetic ketoacidosis is the first sign of type 1 diabetes. It requires immediate medical attention.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that doesn’t allow your cells to use insulin properly. When the pancreas produces insulin, your cells use it to allow sugar to enter and transform into energy. 

If you have type 2 diabetes, your cells resist insulin. This keeps the sugar from entering and turning into energy.

Since the transformation into energy doesn’t happen properly, your pancreas starts making more and more insulin. Eventually, it loses the ability to keep up. This leads to hyperglycemia and its associated symptoms.

Type 2 diabetes usually develops in people over 45 years of age. However, it can also occur in young adults, teens, and even children.

Causes

Type 2 diabetes is caused by lifestyle and genetic factors. If you are overweight, obese, or lead a sedentary way of life, you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Research³ shows that obesity is a serious risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Body mass index is strongly related to diabetes and insulin resistance (when cells resist insulin). Meanwhile, losing just 5% of your weight can greatly decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes can run in the family. If your immediate relatives have this condition, you are more likely to develop it than those who don’t have such a family history. Meanwhile, some racial and ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, and American Indians, are also more likely to develop diabetes.

Symptoms 

It may take months or years for the symptoms of type 2 diabetes to become evident. Here are some of them:

Some people don’t know they have type 2 diabetes until they start experiencing diabetes-related health problems. That’s why, according to the latest American Diabetes Association⁴ guidelines, all people should be screened for diabetes after age 35.

Similarities between type 1 and type 2 diabetes 

At first glance, type 1 and type 2 diabetes may seem alike because both are related to blood sugar problems. The main similarities between these two conditions are in the symptoms, diagnosis, and complications.

Symptoms

The symptoms of these two conditions are identical. It may not be possible to identify the type of diabetes by studying your symptoms alone.

Diagnosis 

The regular tests for diagnosing both conditions include the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test, random glucose levels check, and oral glucose tolerance test.

Complications 

If left unmanaged, both types of diabetes could lead to serious consequences, such as kidney damage, eye damage, heart disease, nerve complications, and more.

Overall, the similarities between type 1 and type 2 diabetes stem from the fact that both cause high blood sugar levels.

Differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes 

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have significant differences.

Causes 

Researchers have yet to determine the common causes of type 1 diabetes. However, there is evidence that environmental factors may trigger the development of this condition in individuals with a genetic predisposition.

Regarding type 2 diabetes, despite the genetic component (it runs in families), the causes are clearly related to lifestyle choices. Research shows that excess weight can lead to insulin resistance.

Management

The key to managing type 1 diabetes is insulin therapy. To alleviate the symptoms, you need to take insulin shots every day. Some people wear an insulin pump.

Although a healthy lifestyle and stress management are highly recommended, it’s nearly impossible to control the condition without insulin shots. However, scientists are constantly looking for ways to reverse type 1 diabetes without insulin replacement.⁵  

When it comes to type 2 diabetes, it’s possible to manage the condition without insulin shots. Patients need to switch to a healthy lifestyle, control their diet, add more exercises to their routine, monitor blood sugar frequently, and take prescribed medication. If these tactics don’t help, a doctor may prescribe insulin therapy.

Prevention 

It’s possible to decrease your chances of developing type 2 diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight and leading a healthy lifestyle. However, scientists have yet to learn what can be done to prevent type 1 diabetes.

Can type 1 diabetes turn into type 2 diabetes or vice versa?

While type 1 and type 2 diabetes have a lot in common, each one is a distinct condition with its own causes. Type 1 diabetes can’t turn into type 2 diabetes or vice versa.  

However, these two conditions can coexist. This is called double or hybrid diabetes.

Studies⁶ have shown that around 4% of all patients with type 1 diabetes have the potential to develop type 2 diabetes. Since the number of obese people worldwide is growing, so is the possibility of developing double diabetes.  

The risk factors for developing hybrid diabetes are:

  • Genetic predisposition

  • Obesity

  • Poor diet choices (high consumption of soft drinks, burgers, chips, and white bread)

  • Insufficient physical activity

Currently, scientists are looking for the best approach to treating this double condition. The main courses of treatment include insulin shots, diet, and lifestyle changes.  

The lowdown 

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are two conditions more different than they seem at first glance. While one can’t turn to another, these two types of diabetes can coexist.

Double diabetes requires comprehensive management. With the right approach, it’s possible to improve your quality of life and even achieve remission.

If you think you have symptoms of diabetes, set up an appointment with your primary physician. The earlier you can diagnose this condition, the faster your life can return to normal. 

  1. Statistics about diabetes | American Diabetes Association

  2. Genetics of type 1 diabetes (2011)

  3. Mechanism linking diabetes mellitus and obesity (2014)

  4. Latest ADA annual standards of care includes changes to diabetes screening, first-line therapy, pregnancy, and technology | American Diabetes Association

  5. Revising type 1 diabetes without insulin replacement | Diabetes Research Connection

  6. nature.com

Other sources

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