Can clinical features be used to differentiate type 1 from type 2 diabetes? A systematic review of the literature

Beverley M. Shields, Jaime L. Peters, Chris Cooper, Jenny Lowe, Bridget A. Knight, Roy J. Powell, Angus Jones, Christopher J. Hyde, Andrew T. Hattersley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Clinicians predominantly use clinical features to differentiate type 1 from type 2 diabetes yet there are no evidence-based clinical criteria to aid classification of patients. Misclassification of diabetes is widespread (7-15% of cases), resulting in patients receiving inappropriate treatment. We sought to identify which clinical criteria could be used to discriminate type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Design: Systematic review of all diagnostic accuracy studies published since 1979 using clinical criteria to predict insulin deficiency (measured by C-peptide). Data sources: 14 databases including: MEDLINE, MEDLINE in Process and EMBASE. The search strategy took the form of: (terms for diabetes) AND (terms for C-Peptide). Eligibility criteria: Diagnostic accuracy studies of any routinely available clinical predictors against a reference standard of insulin deficiency defined by cut-offs of C-peptide concentrations. No restrictions on race, age, language or country of origin. Results: 10 917 abstracts were screened, and 231 full texts reviewed. 11 studies met inclusion criteria, but varied by age, race, year and proportion of participants who were C-peptide negative. Age at diagnosis was the most discriminatory feature in 7/9 studies where it was assessed, with optimal cut-offs (>70% mean sensitivity and specificity) across studies being <30 years or <40 years. Use of/time to insulin treatment and body mass index (BMI) were also discriminatory. When combining features, BMI added little over age at diagnosis and/or time to insulin (<1% improvement in classification). Conclusions: Despite finding only 11 studies, and considerable heterogeneity between studies, age at diagnosis and time to insulin were consistently the most discriminatory criteria. BMI, despite being widely used in clinical practice, adds little to these two criteria. The criteria identified are similar to the Royal College of General Practitioners National Health Service (RCGP/NHS) Diabetes classification guidelines, which use age at diagnosis <35 years and time to insulin <6 m. Until further studies are carried out, these guidelines represent a suitable classification scheme. Systematic review registration: PROSPERO reference CRD42012001736.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere009088
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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© 2015, BMJ Publishing Group. All rights reserved.


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