There are two kinds of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes – and although the symptoms are similar, there are major differences…

Diabetes kills more people than TB, HIV and malaria combined, yet three in five people with diabetes in South Africa are undiagnosed.

This National Diabetes Month (November), it’s important that you know your diabetes number, risk factors and understand the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes affects about 10% of people and used to be known as juvenile diabetes, because it was mostly found in children (although this is not necessarily the case anymore).

Type 1 diabetes is the result of the pancreas producing very little or no insulin. This results in extremely high blood sugar and it’s necessary to go onto insulin injections or an insulin pump straight away. Type 1 diabetes is genetic but not hereditary.

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Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has a strong hereditary link but is also known as a lifestyle disease because it can be the result of an unhealthy lifestyle.

Not enough exercise, being overweight and eating the wrong kind of food (lots of fast food, junk food, excess sugar and refined carbohydrates) can lead to Type 2 diabetes.

It is the result of the pancreas either producing too little insulin, or the insulin that is produced not being used effectively (known as insulin resistance).

If Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed early enough, in the pre-diabetes stage, it can be reversed by diet and lifestyle changes.

The first medication is usually insulin pills. Later, those with Type 2 diabetes may need to take insulin injections, but this doesn’t mean that they have Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 will never change to Type 2, and vice versa.

Common symptoms of diabetes

Interestingly, the symptoms for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are the same.

These are:

  1. Extreme thirst
  2. Extreme hunger
  3. Needing to pee all the time
  4. Constant exhaustion
  5. Blurry vision

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, getting your blood sugar checked is as simple as a finger prick blood test at your local pharmacy or clinic. It takes less than five minutes and is pretty much painless.

During November, you can have free blood sugar tests done at Clicks and Dis-Chem, participating local pharmacies and all public government clinics.

Get more tips, advice and support for living a healthy life with diabetes by joining SA’s largest online diabetes community: Diabetic South Africans and visiting Sweet Life.

Are you at risk?

Risk factors for diabetes include:

  • Overweight or obese (BMI over 25), especially excess fat around your ‘tummy’ plus one or more of these factors:
  • Family history of diabetes
  • High-risk race (Asian, Indian, Coloured)
  • Unhealthy lifestyle
  • Physical inactivity
  • High blood pressure (over 140/90 mmHg) or cholesterol problems
  • Cardiovascular (heart) disease history
  • Diabetes during pregnancy or a baby over 4kg

All adults over 45 years old should have an annual diabetes screening.

If you’re at risk, what should you do?

  1. Get screened
  2. Make healthy food choices
  3. Get active
  4. Take your medication exactly as prescribed

Sources: What is diabetes and Type 2 diabetes, and

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.