Danger of Misdiagnosis
Type 2 diabetes results when the body’s cells have become resistant to insulin and the cells can therefore not absorb sufficient glucose for energy. This often occurs concurrently with decreased output of insulin from the pancreas, but the body is still producing some insulin. Type 2 is initially treated with diet changes and medication.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin, and patients must receive insulin from an outside source. The same treatments for type 2 diabetes are not effective for type 1. Without insulin, a type 1 is at risk for ketoacidosis, which occurs when the body can’t absorb glucose and starts burning purely fat for fuel. The acidic byproduct of fat burning, ketones, builds up in the bloodstream and poisons the body. This is a potentially fatal condition. For more on diabetic ketoacidosis, click here.
The Exeter University study found that 1 in 9 of adult-onset type 1 diabets had been admitted to the hospital because of ketoacidosis. Dr. Andrew T. Hattersley, principal investigator of the study, urges doctors to be suspicious if medications fail to improve a patient’s symptoms. If a patient needs to go on insulin shortly after onset and is a normal weight or even slim, doctors should suspect type 1.
Consider Helen Philbin, a mother of two who received a type 2 diabetes diagnosis at age 40. Helen followed her recommended diet plan and took metformin, but her symptoms did not improve. She continued to lose weight and was vomiting up to four times a week.
When Helen finally received her type 1 diagnosis, she began taking insulin and her symptoms immediately improved. She says, “It’s such a relief and it’s made such a difference. I’m fine now… My year on the wrong treatment was awful. I hope this research ensures more people can get the right treatment more quickly.”
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Type 1 and type 2 are no longer referred to as “youth onset” and “adult onset” diabetes, but they are still often thought of as distinct youth and adult diseases. This new study, combined with the fact that type 2 diabets is increasingly found in youth, means that the adult/youth mindset is no longer accurate or helpful. We hope this study will help people receive the correct diagnosis quickly and never assume one type or the other! Stay healthy, friends!