Adult Onset Type 1 Diabetes Often Misdiagnosed As Type 2

New research indicates that type 1 diabetes is not primarily a childhood disease as earlier thought. Investigators at the University of Exeter Medical School, using UK Biobank data, found that more than 40 percent of type 1 cases occur after 30 years of age.

Currently, many aged 30 and above with type 1 diabetes are misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and are not immediately prescribed the insulin needed to manage their blood sugar.

The pancreatic beta cells of type 1 individuals no longer produce insulin, so they must have regular insulin injections to bring their glucose levels down. Those with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin. Though their cells have become resistant to insulin’s effects, type 2 individuals are initially treated with diet changes, exercise, and oral medication.

In people under 20, type 1 diabetes accounts for more than 85 percent of diabetes cases. In the age group between 31 and 60, 96 percent of diabetes cases are type 2. This makes the onset of type 1 during adulthood atypical, so more difficult to recognize and diagnose.

The Exeter study, published in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, was the first to use an innovative genetic analysis to identify type 1 diabetes in adults, including cases missed by the patients’ physicians.

“The assumption among many doctors is that adults presenting with the symptoms of diabetes will have type 2 but this misconception can lead to misdiagnosis with potentially serious consequences,” said Dr. Richard Oram, senior lecturer at University of Exeter, and Consultant Physician. “This study should raise awareness that type 1 diabetes occurs throughout adulthood and should be considered as a diagnosis.”

The researchers recommend doctors consider type 1 diabetes as a diagnosis for patients who don’t respond to increasing doses of oral diabetes drugs, especially if the patient has a slim build.

Source: Exeter University Medicine
Photo credit: Francisco Osorio

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