Newly-identified third type of diabetes is being wrongly diagnosed as type 2

The health of people with diabetes is being put at risk due to the failure of doctors to recognise which type of diabetes they have, a new study in the journal Diabetes Care reports.

Type 3c

Most people are familiar with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Recently, though, a new type of diabetes has been identified: type 3c diabetes.


Type 1 diabetes is where the body's immune system destroys the insulin producing cells of the pancreas.It usually starts in childhood or early adulthood and almost always needs insulin treatment.


Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas can't keep up with the insulin demand of the body. It is often associated with being overweight or obese and usually starts in middle or old age, although the age of onset is decreasing.


Type 3c diabetes is caused by damage to the pancreas from inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), tumours of the pancreas, or pancreatic surgery. This type of damage to the pancreas not only impairs the organ's ability to produce insulin but also to produce the proteins needed to digest food (digestive enzymes) and other hormones.


In the first ever study of its kind, researchers from the University of Surrey, examined the primary care records of more than 2 million people assessing the frequency of different types of diabetes and the accuracy of diagnosis.


Particular focus was given to those who developed type 3c diabetes.


Type 3c diabetes occurs as a result of pancreatic inflammation, abnormal growth of tissue on the organ or surgically removing part or all of the tissue, which affects the body's ability to produce insulin. 


The researchers discovered that up to 97.3 per cent of people who have previously experienced pancreatic disease are misdiagnosed, typically with type 2 diabetes, rather than the correct condition type 3c.


Such a misdiagnosis impacts on the treatment offered to patients, with those suffering from type 3c diabetes requiring insulin therapy more urgently than those with type 2 diabetes.


Delays in delivering the appropriate treatment can have devastating long term effects for patients with type 3c diabetes with nerve, eye and kidney damage all possible consequences.


Researchers were also surprised to find that adults were more likely to develop type 3c diabetes than type 1 diabetes.


In their sample, 205 more people were newly diagnosed with type 3c diabetes than with type 1.


This discovery shows this under-recognised form of diabetes is more common than previously thought and could pose a potential threat to public health.


Senior author of the report,  Professor Simon de Lusignan from the University of Surrey, said: "Greater awareness of type 3c diabetes within the medical profession is required immediately to improve management of this disease, which now has a higher incidence than type 1 diabetes in adults.


"Our research shows that the majority of people with type 3c diabetes are being misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes, putting both their short and long term health at risk.


"Diabetes and its complications place a tremendous burden on the NHS and it is important that patients are diagnosed quickly and correctly, helping them get the specific care they need.


"This builds on our previous work that suggests that failure to flag the right diagnosis is associated with lower quality care."


Latest figures from Public Health England indicate that 3.8 million people in England aged over 16 have diabetes, around 9% of the adult population, with an estimated £14 billion pounds being spent a year on treating the illness and its complications.

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