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1 in 5 cases of Type 1 diabetes diagnosed in the over-40s

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More than one in five cases of Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed in people aged over 40, according to new figures announced today at Diabetes UK’s annual Diabetes Professional Conference.

The figures, which are based on analysis from the National Diabetes Audit data, shows that in the year 2011–12, 8,952 people were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This included 2,035 people who were aged over 40 at the time of their diagnosis, of who more than 500 were aged over 69.

The research confirms what Diabetes UK has always said that, though most cases are commonly diagnosed between the ages of 10–14, Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age. The charity pointed to Home Secretary Theresa May’s Type 1 diagnosis last year as a high profile example of this.

The charity’s announcement comes as new research from the Royal Gwent Hospital in Wales suggests that lack of awareness about late onset Type 1 diabetes is leading to some people not being diagnosed early enough and in some cases people can become seriously ill before the condition is identified.

Signs and symptoms

This research highlights the need for healthcare professionals not to rule out Type 1 diabetes just because a patient is older. It is also important for the public to be aware of the main signs and symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, which include being tired, thirsty, losing weight and going to the toilet a lot, especially at night. People also need to understand that they should contact their GP if they have any of these symptoms.

Simon O’Neill, Director for Health Intelligence and Professional Liaison for Diabetes UK, said, "This study highlights that Type 1 diabetes is not just a condition that strikes the young. We hear of reports where people who develop the condition later in life are only diagnosed once they are seriously ill.

"This is why it is really important that healthcare professionals do not rule out the possibility of symptoms being Type 1 just because the person is older. It is also important that the public understands that if they have any of the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes that they need to go to see their GP."

"It's never too late for diabetic ketoacidosis"

Dr Triveni Shekaraiah, the Royal Gwent Hospital researcher and lead researcher for the study, said, "Type 1 diabetes is a very serious condition that predominantly develops in the young, but our study shows that clinicians and the general public need to be aware of the possibility of the onset of Type 1 diabetes in older patients, and that it is never too late for diabetic ketoacidosis."

The study by the Royal Gwent Hospital, which was also co-authored by Dr PJ Evans, looked at a case report of a 77-year-old female who was diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis and is being presented at Diabetes UK’s Annual Professional Conference.

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