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Diabetes is ‘Five different diseases’ not two, Doctors discover

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Scientists have discovered there could be five different types of diabetes, not just two. And it could help doctors identify which patients are most likely to suffer nasty complications, including going blind, in the early stages.

Currently there are two types of diabetes, both of which cause a person’s blood sugar levels to become too high.

Type 1 diabetes is where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin – a key hormone that helps break down sugar. Meanwhile, type 2 is more common accounting for around 90 per cent of diabetes cases in the UK.

The discovery could lead to better treatment for people with the disease. Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. It’s linked to obesity and lifestyle factors, and is where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body doesn’t react to insulin.

But now, a team of scientists in Sweden and Finland have identified five clusters of patients with diabetes. And each comes with significantly different characteristics and risk of complications, they found.

“This new substratification might eventually help to tailor and target early treatments to patients who would benefit most, thereby representing a first step towards precision medicine in diabetes,” the researchers said.

They found cluster 3 was most resistant to insulin, and had significantly higher risk of diabetic kidney disease than those in clusters 4 and 5. Cluster 2 had the highest risk of retinopathy, which can cause blindness.

The team analysed data on newly diagnosed patients from the Swedish All New Diabetics in Scania cohort, to arrive at their findings. The findings could prove important to the 3.7million people diagnosed with diabetes currently in the UK.

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition controlled by insulin injections. It accounts for about 10 per cent of diabetes cases in the UK and isn’t linked to lifestyle. Millions more are thought to have prediabetes, or blood sugar levels that are above the normal range but not yet high enough to be classified as diabetic.

If you have signs of prediabetes, it’s important to see your GP immediately.

Common warning signs include:

feeling very thirsty
peeing more regularly, especially at night
feeling really tired
weight loss and loss of muscle bulk
itching around the penis or vagina, frequent bouts of thrush
cuts or wounds than take ages to heal
blurry vision

In contrast, people can live with type 2 diabetes for years without realising it, but the condition can be reversed by adopting a more healthy lifestyle, and losing weight.

The new findings are published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.


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