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Type 1 diabetes screening

Some people can now get a type 1 diabetes test that helps doctors know who is at high risk for type 1 diabetes. This is called type 1 diabetes screening, and it can help people prepare for a diagnosis. 

Is there a type 1 diabetes test?  

In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the part of the pancreas that produces insulin, so you can’t produce insulin anymore. Scientists have developed a type 1 diabetes risk test that looks for markers of diabetes in your blood that can show up months or years before any symptoms appear. These markers tell us that the immune system has started to plan an attack against the pancreas. If you have them, it means you’re at a high risk of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in your lifetime. 

This test is not the same as a blood glucose test, sometimes called a finger-prick test, that a doctor might do to diagnose type 1 diabetes if you already have symptoms

Find out more about how type 1 diabetes screening works 

How to get tested for type 1 diabetes risk 

Type 1 diabetes screening isn’t yet available in the UK outside of research studies.   

We’re funding a UK-first project called the ELSA study that’s screening 20,000 children, aged between three and 13 years, to assess their risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Find out more about the study and how your child can take part.  

ELSA will help us work out the most effective way to deliver a future screening programme for type 1 diabetes in the UK and could transform the way we detect and manage the condition in its earliest stages.  

“Avishai told me about his friend James getting ill with type 1 diabetes. When I heard about the ELSA study, I told Avishai right away. I thought if he is at risk of type 1 diabetes, I would rather know sooner than when he could become ill and end up in hospital like his friend James. It wasn't something we took too long to decide about really. As soon as we got the invite to take part, we thought it was a good idea.” Prity, whose son Avishai was screened in the ELSA study.  

Adults aged between 18 and 70 years can sign up for a similar study, called the T1DRA study. It's recruiting 20,000 adults to identify those at high risk and understand more about how type 1 diabetes develops in adults.

Is type 1 diabetes genetic? 

We don’t know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes. There are certain genes that can increase your risk of getting type 1, and if you’ve got a close relative with type 1 diabetes then your risk is slightly higher. But many people with type 1 diabetes don’t have any family history of diabetes. 

There’s another study, similar to ELSA, called INNODIA, which you can sign up to if you’re a brother, sister, parent or child of someone with type 1 diabetes and aged between one and 45. If you sign up for this study, you might be invited to have a type 1 diabetes test to screen for your risk of developing the condition. 

Can type 1 diabetes be prevented? 

Unlike type 2 diabetes, where research has shown that prevention may be possible for some people through lifestyle changes like diet, physical activity and losing weight, currently there is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes.  

But researchers are working on new treatments that could prevent or delay type 1 diabetes, called immunotherapies. One immunotherapy drug called teplizumab is being considered for use outside of research studies at the moment. Studies have shown that teplizumab might be able to delay a type 1 diabetes diagnosis by up to three years. It’s not available in the UK yet, but if it’s approved, it could help delay a type 1 diabetes diagnosis when given to people who have a high risk of developing the condition. Researchers hope that drugs like these could help us prevent type 1 diabetes in the future. 

You can’t get type 1 diabetes screening outside of research studies at the moment, so it’s important to know the symptoms of type 1 diabetes. If you or someone you know develops any of these symptoms, you should speak to your GP or call NHS 111 urgently.

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes

  • Toilet - going for a wee a lot, especially at night. 

  • Thirsty - being really thirsty. 

  • Tired - feeling more tired than usual. 

  • Thinner - losing weight without trying to. 

  • Genital itching or thrush. 

  • Cuts and wounds take longer to heal. 

  • Blurred eyesight 

  • Increased hunger. 

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