Type 1 diabetes defined by severe insulin deficiency occurs after 30 years of age and is commonly treated as type 2 diabetes

Diabetologia. 2019 Jul;62(7):1167-1172. doi: 10.1007/s00125-019-4863-8. Epub 2019 Apr 10.


Aims/hypothesis: Late-onset type 1 diabetes can be difficult to identify. Measurement of endogenous insulin secretion using C-peptide provides a gold standard classification of diabetes type in longstanding diabetes that closely relates to treatment requirements. We aimed to determine the prevalence and characteristics of type 1 diabetes defined by severe endogenous insulin deficiency after age 30 and assess whether these individuals are identified and managed as having type 1 diabetes in clinical practice.

Methods: We assessed the characteristics of type 1 diabetes defined by rapid insulin requirement (within 3 years of diagnosis) and severe endogenous insulin deficiency (non-fasting C-peptide <200 pmol/l) in 583 participants with insulin-treated diabetes, diagnosed after age 30, from the Diabetes Alliance for Research in England (DARE) population cohort. We compared characteristics with participants with retained endogenous insulin secretion (>600 pmol/l) and 220 participants with severe insulin deficiency who were diagnosed under age 30.

Results: Twenty-one per cent of participants with insulin-treated diabetes who were diagnosed after age 30 met the study criteria for type 1 diabetes. Of these participants, 38% did not receive insulin at diagnosis, of whom 47% self-reported type 2 diabetes. Rapid insulin requirement was highly predictive of severe endogenous insulin deficiency: 85% required insulin within 1 year of diagnosis, and 47% of all those initially treated without insulin who progressed to insulin treatment within 3 years of diagnosis had severe endogenous insulin deficiency. Participants with late-onset type 1 diabetes defined by development of severe insulin deficiency had similar clinical characteristics to those with young-onset type 1 diabetes. However, those with later onset type 1 diabetes had a modestly lower type 1 diabetes genetic risk score (0.268 vs 0.279; p < 0.001 [expected type 2 diabetes population median, 0.231]), a higher islet autoantibody prevalence (GAD-, islet antigen 2 [IA2]- or zinc transporter protein 8 [ZnT8]-positive) of 78% at 13 years vs 62% at 26 years of diabetes duration; (p = 0.02), and were less likely to identify as having type 1 diabetes (79% vs 100%; p < 0.001) vs those with young-onset disease.

Conclusions/interpretation: Type 1 diabetes diagnosed over 30 years of age, defined by severe insulin deficiency, has similar clinical and biological characteristics to that occurring at younger ages, but is frequently not identified. Clinicians should be aware that patients progressing to insulin within 3 years of diagnosis have a high likelihood of type 1 diabetes, regardless of initial diagnosis.

Keywords: Autoantibodies; C-peptide; Classification; Genetic risk score; Type 1 diabetes; Type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autoantibodies / metabolism
  • C-Peptide / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / deficiency
  • Insulin / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged


  • Autoantibodies
  • C-Peptide
  • Insulin