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The importance of diagnosing diabetes early

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Douglas Twenefour

Deputy Head of Care, Diabetes UK

Diabetes diagnoses in the UK have hit an all-time high. The numbers are rising sharply and Diabetes UK’s latest figures, released in May, show that 4.1 million people are living with a diagnosis of the condition.

Around 90% of people with diabetes have type 2. Noticing the warning signs can be difficult as they are subtle and many people do not show any symptoms at all. This means some people can live for up to 10 years with type 2 diabetes before being diagnosed.

In fact, we estimate there are around 850,000 people living with type 2 diabetes in the UK who are yet to be diagnosed, taking the total number of people with diabetes in the UK to 4.9 million.

Unfortunately, by the time people are diagnosed, one in three already has complications with their heart, eyes, feet, kidneys or nerves.

Knowing your risk of type 2 diabetes

When you have type 2 diabetes your body can’t get enough glucose into your cells for energy, so a common symptom is feeling very tired. There are other symptoms – such as feeling thirsty, going to the toilet a lot, or losing weight without trying to.

If you have these symptoms, you should contact your GP.

We estimate there are around 850,000 people living with type 2 diabetes in the UK who are yet to be diagnosed.

There are other ways to be aware of your risk. The NHS health check offers a five-yearly check-up to people aged 40 to 74, to help spot the early signs of type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.

There is also the Diabetes UK ‘Know Your Risk’ tool. This is a free online tool which takes just a few minutes to complete. It quickly advises the individual on their risk and suggests next steps.

Spotting the signs of type 1

Type 1 diabetes is less common, making up about 8% of cases. Other, more rare types of diabetes include monogenic diabetes and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.

In type 1 diabetes, the most common symptoms are known as the ‘4Ts’. The 4Ts are being Thirsty, going to the Toilet more, feeling Tired and losing weight so you get Thinner. These symptoms usually come about quickly, are more severe, and are usually obvious – so people are more likely to be diagnosed early.

We need insulin to live, but people with type 1 do not produce any which is why, once diagnosed, people with type 1 are treated with insulin straight away. They are also given a glucose meter to monitor their blood glucose levels at home and are provided with guidance of how to use the meter, what blood sugar levels to aim for and what to do when the levels are too high (hyper) or too low (hypo).

For further reading about early diagnosis, and information about the other forms of diabetes, such as gestational diabetes, visit: diabetes.org.uk.

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