Over 180 million globally unaware that they have type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on April 17, 2013

Could brown fat hold the key to new treatments for diabetes?

Over 180 million globally unaware that they have type 2 diabetes

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that globally as many as 183 million people, or half of those who have diabetes, are unaware of their condition. Most of these have type 2 diabetes and are putting themselves at risk as the earlier a person is diagnosed and management of diabetes begins, the better the chances of preventing serious complications.

The organisation says there is an urgent need for diagnosing and providing appropriate care to people with diabetes. In some regions, for example Africa where resources are often lacking and governments may not prioritise screening, the proportion of people with diabetes who are undiagnosed can reach up to 90%. However, even in high income countries, about one third of people with diabetes have not been diagnosed. The South East Asia Region and the Western Pacific Region together account for over 60% of all people with undiagnosed diabetes, accounting for 36.2 million and 73.5 million respectively, according to IDF figures.

‘A person with diabetes can live for several years without showing any symptoms, during which time high blood glucose is silently damaging the body and diabetes complications may be developing,’ said an IDF spokesman. ‘The complications associated with diabetes are so varied that even when symptoms do exist, diabetes may not be thought to be the cause unless accurate and appropriate testing is carried out. Those who are undiagnosed will not be taking steps to manage their blood glucose levels or lifestyles. Studies have found that many people with undiagnosed diabetes already have complications such as chronic kidney disease and heart failure, retinopathy and neuropathy,’ he added.

The IDF also points out that undiagnosed diabetes is costly in terms of increased use of health services, lost productivity, and disability which can be a considerable burden to the individual, to families and to society. ‘When people have undiagnosed diabetes the opportunities and potential benefits of early diagnosis and treatment are lost. Furthermore, the costs related to undiagnosed diabetes are considerable. One study from the United States found that undiagnosed diabetes was responsible for an additional US$18 billion in healthcare costs in one year,’ explained the spokesman.

Quote from DiabetesForum.com : “For the past month I’ve been out of town for the holidays and I’ve been feeling nauseated after eating dinner. The people I was visiting suggested that I take my blood sugar after one meal and the meter read 370, twice. The past two days my fasting blood sugar (overnight) has been around 250 and an hour after dinner is 280-340.. I haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes but I’m visiting family for the holidays and I can’t see one for at least a week.”

The IDF says that opportunistic identification of people with risk factors for undiagnosed type 2 diabetes is feasible and cost effective. Risk scores and ‘tick tests’ listing risk factors for undiagnosed diabetes have been developed in many countries based on epidemiological surveys of the local populations and are widely available.

‘While undiagnosed diabetes is a substantial problem, population wide screening for diabetes is not appropriate. Countries must first develop health systems that can meet the needs of people living with diabetes. Priority should be given to providing good care and treatment to those already identified with diabetes, and targeted screening for those at high risk of undiagnosed diabetes may be considered once a working system for care is in place,’ it says.

Population based studies provide the basis for estimating undiagnosed diabetes. A sample of people living in a particular area is tested for diabetes, which identifies both known and previously undiagnosed cases. The IDF Diabetes Atlas estimates undiagnosed diabetes, using representative population based studies, reporting the proportion of undiagnosed cases. These findings from these studies are then combined by region and income group to generate an estimate that is later applied to the prevalence estimates for diabetes.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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