Delayed Diagnosis of Diabetes

Each type of diabetes has different causes and may be managed in different ways but all types of diabetes lead to excess sugar in a person's blood, which can lead to serious health problems. The prompt diagnosis of diabetes allows for early management and treatment, which can prevent or delay complications, improve quality of life, and reduce the economic burden of the disease. Regular check-ups, a healthy diet, physical activity, and adhering to medication can help manage diabetes effectively.

There are several types of diabetes, but the most common ones are:

1. Type 1 Diabetes: This is an autoimmune condition where the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, the body produces little or no insulin. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin injections or use an insulin pump to maintain normal glucose levels. It's often diagnosed in children or young adults, but it can occur at any age.

2. Type 2 Diabetes: This is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for about 90-95% of all diagnosed cases. In type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn't use insulin effectively (insulin resistance) or doesn't produce enough insulin. It's often associated with obesity, physical inactivity, and poor diet. It's more common in adults, but its prevalence is increasing in children and adolescents.

3. Gestational Diabetes: This type of diabetes occurs in some women during pregnancy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause insulin resistance, leading to high blood sugar levels. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, but women who have had it are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

4. Prediabetes: This is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. People with prediabetes are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

5. Other types: There are other, less common types of diabetes, such as monogenic diabetes (which includes neonatal diabetes and maturity-onset diabetes of the young), and diabetes due to diseases of the pancreas or certain drug or chemical induced diabetes.

Prompt diagnosis of diabetes is crucial for several reasons:

1. Prevent Complications: Early diagnosis allows for immediate treatment, which can prevent or delay complications associated with diabetes. These complications can include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, dental disease, nerve damage, and foot problems.

2. Manage Blood Sugar Levels: Once diagnosed, individuals can take steps to manage their blood sugar levels, such as modifying their diet, getting regular exercise, losing weight if necessary, and taking prescribed medications. Proper management can help to maintain blood sugar levels within a target range and prevent hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia.

3. Early Intervention: With early diagnosis, lifestyle changes and medication (if needed) can be started promptly. In many cases, particularly with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, these interventions can reverse the course of the disease or slow its progression.

4. Improve Quality of Life: Prompt diagnosis and treatment can help individuals with diabetes lead healthier, longer lives. It allows them to manage their symptoms, avoid or delay complications, and improve their overall quality of life.

5. Economic Impact: Early diagnosis and treatment can also reduce the economic burden of diabetes. Diabetes and its complications can result in high healthcare costs, lost productivity, and disability. By preventing or delaying these complications, early diagnosis can reduce these costs.

6. Prevent Emergency Situations: Undiagnosed or poorly managed diabetes can lead to emergencies like diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) or hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state (HHS) which are life-threatening conditions.

Delayed diagnosis of diabetes can lead to several severe complications, as high blood sugar levels over time can damage various organs and systems in the body. Potential consequences include:

1. Cardiovascular Problems: Prolonged high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves that control the heart, leading to heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

2. Nerve Damage (Neuropathy): Excess sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels that nourish your nerves, especially in the legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning, or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward.

3. Kidney Damage (Nephropathy): The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters that filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can damage this delicate filtering system, leading to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which may require dialysis or a kidney transplant.

4. Eye Damage (Retinopathy): Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina, potentially leading to blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of other serious vision conditions, such as cataracts and glaucoma.

5. Foot Damage: Nerve damage in the feet or poor blood flow to the feet increases the risk of various foot complications. Cuts and blisters can develop serious infections, which often heal poorly. These infections may ultimately require toe, foot, or leg amputation.

6. Skin and Mouth Conditions: Diabetes may leave you more susceptible to skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections. Gum infections also may be a concern, especially if you have a history of poor dental hygiene.

7. Bone and Joint Problems: Diabetes may lead to a higher risk of bone and joint problems, such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

8. Pregnancy Complications: High blood sugar levels can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby. The risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects are increased when diabetes isn't well-controlled. For the mother, diabetes increases the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, diabetic eye problems (retinopathy), pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia.

Clinical negligence occurs when a healthcare professional provides substandard care that leads to the patient's injury or worsens the patient's condition. In the context of a delayed diagnosis of diabetes, clinical negligence could occur in several ways:

1. Failure to Screen: If a patient presents risk factors for diabetes such as obesity, family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, or signs of insulin resistance, and the healthcare provider fails to screen for diabetes, this could be considered negligence.

2. Misinterpretation of Test Results: If a healthcare provider incorrectly interprets test results, leading to a missed diagnosis of diabetes, this could also constitute negligence.

3. Failure to Follow Up: If a healthcare provider doesn't follow up on abnormal test results or fails to refer the patient to a specialist when necessary, this could lead to a delayed diagnosis.

4. Ignoring Patient's Symptoms: If a patient reports symptoms consistent with diabetes and the healthcare provider dismisses these symptoms without proper examination or testing, this could lead to a delayed diagnosis and potential negligence.

5. Inadequate Treatment: Even after diagnosis, if a healthcare provider fails to properly manage a patient’s diabetes, leading to preventable complications, this could also be considered a form of negligence.

The specialist clinical negligence solicitors at Curtis Law Solicitors have experience of investigating claims concerning the delayed diagnosis of diabetes which have caused avoidable injury and loss. We can help determine whether negligence occurred and what legal options are available. It is important to note that a negative outcome does not necessarily mean that negligence occurred; medicine is complex, and complications can arise even with appropriate care.

If you wish to discuss a potential clinical negligence claim with our specialist solicitors you can email us, use our online enquiry form, or call us for free on 0800 008 7450.