A blood test has been developed that could prolong the lives of millions of adults by detecting diabetes.
The simple procedure, designed for use in doctors' surgeries, can identify at least 75 per cent of cases by assessing blood sugar levels over the previous two to three months. Researchers in the United States say the test could be used on patients who have common risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure or a family history of the disease.
Their findings came as British specialists warned that the NHS faced "staggering" costs from an epidemic of the condition, and its associated complications.
Some 1.4 million Britons are estimated to have diagnosed diabetes and another one million adults have the disease but have not been diagnosed.
Unhealthy diets and inactive lifestyles mean that these figures are likely to soar. Even by conservative estimates, the prevalence of the disease is expected to increase by 15 per cent over the next 20 years.
One of the biggest problems is late diagnosis. The disease can lie undetected for nine to 12 years, leading to the risk of long-term damage to the heart, eyes and kidneys.
Professor Rhys Williams, a leading epidemiologist at Leeds University, said yesterday that diabetes cost the NHS £5.2bn a year. He said 80 per cent of this expenditure was because of complications. Many of the associated illnesses could be avoided by early diagnosis or better treatment.
Sir George Alberti, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the hidden onset of diabetes meant that the full importance of the illness had gone unrecognised by policy makers.
There was an "urgent need to move diabetes up the agenda, alongside coronary heart disease and cancer for the sake of individual sufferers and the public purse", he said.
The new screening technique, developed at Duke University medical centre in North Carolina, can be administered on the spot and does not require patients to have fasted for several hours.
Out of 1,253 patients tested, 4.5 per cent were found to have diabetes. Diabetes UK, a charity which estimates that two out of three diabetics die unnecessarily from complications, said the results were "very interesting.
"These people need to be found as soon as possible," a spokesman said.Reuse content