People with type 2 diabetes can go undiagnosed for years – study

People who are unaware they have type 2 diabetes are risking ill-health due to delays of several years in getting a diagnosis, according to a new study.

Type 2 diabetes is often diagnosed following blood or urine tests for something else, though the five-yearly NHS Health Check for people over 40 also screens for the condition.

Now, a new study of more than 200,000 people has found that those with type 2 wait an average of 2.3 years – and sometimes more than five years – before learning they have the illness.

Women are more likely than men to experience delays, as are those who are not necessarily obese and people whose blood sugar level is at the lower end of the diabetes range.

Around 4.8 million people in the UK have diabetes, including around one million who are unaware they have type 2, which can be caused by obesity.

Some 90% of cases of diabetes are type 2, with complications of the condition including heart, kidney and eye problems.

The new study, presented at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference, analysed data from the UK Biobank study, where participants give a blood sample when they initially agree to the research.

Dr Katie Young, from the University of Exeter, analysed data from 201,465 people in the study and found that 2,022 had a reported HbA1c (a measure of average blood sugar levels for the last two to three months) of 48mmol/mol (6.5%) or more.

This is the threshold at which, when combined with additional measures, type 2 diabetes is diagnosed.

Dr Young’s team linked the data with GP records for each person and found it took an average of 2.3 years following the elevated HbA1c test to receive a clinical diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Almost a quarter of people (23%) had still not received a diagnosis after five years of having elevated blood sugar levels.

The researchers suggested that some of those with type 2 may not be experiencing common diabetes symptoms that can take a long time to develop, such as going to the toilet a lot, being very thirsty, feeling more tired than usual, and losing weight without trying.

Dr Young said: “The results of this study add to previous research suggesting that population-level screening for type 2 diabetes could potentially identify many cases and improve patient outcomes by allowing lifestyle interventions and diabetes treatment to begin much earlier.

“Unfortunately, screening initiatives such as the NHS Health Check have not been offered or taken up at their normal rate in the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: “This research provides clear evidence of delays in the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

“Early diagnosis is the best way to avoid the devastating complications of type 2 diabetes, and offers the best chance of living a long and healthy life with type 2 diabetes.

“Type 2 diabetes can sometimes go undetected for up to 10 years, which can lead to serious complications.

“While the symptoms of type 2 diabetes can sometimes be tricky to spot in the early stages, it’s important to know the signs to look out for and, if you notice anything unusual, speak to your GP.

“Some 12.3 million people in the UK are at an increased risk of developing the condition, but many will be unaware of their risk.

“We urge anyone concerned about type 2 diabetes to use Diabetes UK’s free online know your risk tool.”