The vast majority of British adults have no idea about the warning signs for diabetes, and even those who have the condition themselves underestimate its severity, according to new research from Hospital Negligence.

A survey of more than 700 people found that only 26% of people know that age, weight and genetics are all risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, while just 27% of respondents knew that both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are treated with insulin injections.

When asked how many people they thought are living with diabetes in the UK, most respondents underestimated the total number, with 39% guessing 3.2 million people, 34% saying 1.6 million and just 23% stating 4.5 million, correct at the time of the survey.

Among respondents who have diabetes themselves, more people believed there are 3.2 million people living with diabetes in the UK (42%) than those who knew the amount was 4.5 million (40%) at the time.

The NHS states the likelihood of diabetic patients requiring an amputation as a result of their condition as 15 times higher than the rest of the population, but the majority of survey respondents (42%) believed the risk was just five times higher.

Hospital Negligence’s research comes as Diabetes UK announced a breakthrough discovery from a clinical trial which found that people can help to put their Type 2 diabetes into remission by following a low-calorie diet. The study found a close link between Type 2 diabetes remission and total weight loss, with 86% of people who lost more than 15kg on a GP-managed weight-loss programme entering remission after a year.

Nick Young, special medical negligence solicitor at Hospital Negligence, says: “Diabetes affects a huge proportion of our population and a massive 68% of people we surveyed know someone with the condition. Despite this, it is surprising to learn just how little knowledge Britons have about the risk factors involved with Type 2 diabetes.

“The public is dangerously unaware of what to look out for - almost half those we surveyed thought that weight alone was a risk factor, but there are many other elements that determine whether somebody contracts the condition and it is important for the public to be aware of what these are.”

Diabetes UK has committed an additional £300,000 to funding its current study on remission and is aiming to understand the longer-term benefits of treating Type 2 diabetes with a weight management programme.

Dougie Twenefour, deputy head of care at Diabetes UK, says: “If you’re thinking about trying a low-calorie diet, it’s really important you speak to your GP and get referred to a dietitian. This is to make sure you get tailored advice and support.

“It’s also important to bear in mind that if you’re treating your Type 2 diabetes with certain medications, such as insulin or sulphonylurea, a low-calorie diet can make hypos more likely. So you’ll need support to make changes to your medications and check your blood sugar levels more often.”

Additional survey data from Hospital Negligence revealed:

Just over half of those surveyed (52%) said they knew what the early warning signs are for Type 2 diabetes.

The awareness of early warning signs was mixed:

  • 78% knew that increased thirst is a warning sign
  • 64% knew that increased tiredness was a warning sign
  • 51% knew that high blood glucose levels
  • 39% knew that blurred vision was a symptom
  • 33% knew that cuts/wounds taking longer to heal was a symptom
  • 30% knew that unexplained weight loss was a symptom
  • 21% knew that frequent bouts of thrush were a sign
  • 26% believed, incorrectly, that frequent headaches were a sign.