In 2019, there were almost 14 thousand diabetes-related deaths in the UK. That number looks set to rise. Britain currently has 4.3 million registered diabetics, but new analysis from London Medical Laboratory has revealed there are likely to be over one million Brits suffering from undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. Untreated diabetes can lead to blindness, amputations and death. The earlier people are diagnosed, the better the outcome.
London Medical Laboratory says that a visit to your GP surgery for an NHS test, or a simple fingerprick diagnostic test (which can be taken at home) will identify this invisible disease. With one million cases currently unidentified, testing could save Brits 10 million life-years; 5,000 lost toes, feet or legs; 300,000 cases of vision loss and 368,000 kidney failures.
London Medical Laboratory’s Clinical Lead, Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), says: ‘It’s astonishing to think that one simple, diagnostic blood test, either with your GP or as a fingerprick blood test taken at home, will tell people if they have the condition or not. Moreover, a fingerprick blood test can also identify if people are pre-diabetic, which is an entirely reversable condition. Basic changes to lifestyle and diet can ensure people return to full health and prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. That’s why we are saying that it’s time everyone joined us in giving diabetes the finger.
‘Many people don’t fully understand the risks this invisible killer presents. Diabetes can lead to multiple, potentially fatal, complications if untreated and reduce life expectancy by up to ten years, according to Diabetes UK. A million undiagnosed cases here in the UK represent up to 10 million years of life lost to this insidious disease, which is one of the ten major killers worldwide, according to the WHO.
‘So, what is diabetes and how do people identify it? Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% of all UK diabetes cases and is caused by problems with the glucose-regulating hormone, insulin. Type 2 diabetes is often linked to being overweight, inactive or having a family history of the disease. It causes the level of glucose in the blood to rise beyond normal levels.
‘It can cause symptoms like tiredness, increased thirst and needing to pass urine more frequently, even during the night. It can also increase people’s risk of developing serious problems with their eyes, heart, kidneys and nerves. The big problem is that it’s not easily spotted in its pre-diabetic stage or even when it has developed into the early stages of full type 2 diabetes. That means patients may miss the window of opportunity to reverse the condition and prevent complications.
‘It doesn’t just kill; it can also lead to many life-changing conditions. According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, recent research shows five out of every 1,000 people with diabetes will need a lower limb amputation. That means, of Britain’s one million undiagnosed cases, up to 5,000 may eventually present with more advanced conditions that require amputations. According to the latest figures from NHS Resolution, diabetes leads to more than 9,500 leg, toe or foot amputations every year, or 185 cases a week.
‘Diabetes also affects eyesight. According to the RNIB, the prevalence of “diabetic retinopathy” is around 54.6% in people with type 1 diabetes and 30% in people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina). It can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated. Again, that means that of those million undiagnosed Brits, there could be up to 300,000 cases of vision loss, ranging from deteriorating eyesight to complete blindness.
‘Another major danger resulting from undiagnosed diabetes is a kidney disease called “diabetic nephropathy”. According to the National Kidney Foundation, approximately 42.3% of people with type 1 diabetes and 36.8% of those with type 2 diabetes will develop diabetic nephropathy. This condition is a result of prolonged high blood sugar levels that damage the kidneys, impairing their ability to filter waste and excess fluids from the body. Left untreated and undiagnosed, diabetic nephropathy can progress to kidney failure, necessitating dialysis or transplantation. Among the estimated one million undiagnosed individuals with diabetes in the UK, there may be up to 368,000 cases of diabetic nephropathy. Again, early detection and management are crucial to mitigate the impact of this condition.
‘So how can you find out if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes? Diabetes UK acknowledges the signs or symptoms of the disease aren’t always easy to spot. In fact, type 2 diabetes is often diagnosed due to blood tests for other conditions or health issues. The only way you can find out if you or a loved one has this condition is from a blood test that measures your “glycated haemoglobin” – commonly known as HbA1c. Measuring blood glucose itself doesn’t provide a good estimate of diabetic risk as this level fluctuates rapidly. Instead, the HbA1c test estimates the impact of glucose in the longer term, providing a clearer understanding of raised glucose levels.
‘You can arrange to visit your local GP for a test. Or, if you find it difficult to arrange a convenient appointment or want more privacy, a simple fingerprick blood test, which can be taken in your own home, will categorically confirm whether you have type 2 diabetes – even in its earliest stages, long before any symptoms have developed. This home test, which at less than £30 costs the same as 3 bottles of wine, checks your levels of HbA1c. For anyone who already knows they have diabetes, regular HbA1c checks are also essential to monitor progress.
‘London Medical Laboratory’s “Diabetes – Diagnosis and Monitoring test” can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 95 selected pharmacies and health stores.