A new diagnostic method for type 1 diabetes could help to detect thousands of cases before the onset of short-term complications.
The new diagnostic method, which is recommended by the JDRF, the American Diabetes Association and the Endocrine Society, could lead to earlier diagnosis and better overall health outcomes for people with type 1 diabetes. The research behind the recommendations comes from TrialNet, an international network of research centres.
Diagnosing type 1 diabetes: a three-stage process?
According to the research, the onset of type 1 diabetes is essentially made up of three stages:
Stage one occurs when the individual has two or more diabetes-related autoantibodies. This indicates that the immune system is attacking the beta cells in the pancreas, although at this point it won’t be accompanied by high blood sugar or other symptoms of type 1.
At stage two, the individual will have high blood glucose levels as a result of beta cell loss. Symptoms are not apparent yet. It is almost certain at this point that the individual will develop type 1 diabetes.
By stage three, the individual will usually have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Heavy beta cell loss has taken place, and symptoms such as thirst, tiredness, hunger and weight loss have become apparent.
“The earlier diagnosis is made, the sooner intervention can take place”
Using this method, researchers hope to be able to diagnose type 1 diabetes early. Currently, a diagnosis isn’t usually made until the onset of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a short-term complication that occurs when blood glucose levels run dangerously high.
“Clinical research supports the usefulness of diagnosing type 1 diabetes early – before beta cell loss advances to stage three,” said Dr. Maria Redondo, director of the Texas Children’s/Baylor TrialNet Clinical Centre and associate professor of paediatrics at Baylor and in the diabetes and endocrinology section at Texas Children’s Hospital. “The earlier diagnosis is made in the disease process, the sooner intervention can take place, and the more beta cells are likely to remain. More beta cells may lead to better outcomes regarding blood sugar control and reduction of long-term complications.”
Who should be screened?
Screening is recommend for anyone who has a family member with type 1 diabetes, because genetics are such a significant risk factor:
Having a mother with type 1 diabetes increases risk of diabetes by two per cent
Father – eight per cent
Both parents – 30 per cent
Brother or sister – 10 per cent
Non-identical twin – 15 per cent
Identical twin – 40 per cent
The recommendation is published in Diabetes Care.

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