Can we protect people with type 1 diabetes from Addison’s disease?

Posted on 30 November 2018

Hands typing at a laptop, surrounded by clipboard, phone, stethoscope and other items.

New findings could help people living with type 1 diabetes and their healthcare teams to spot the signs of another autoimmune condition and keep them healthy through timely treatment.

Addison’s disease is a rare autoimmune condition in which the immune system accidentally damages the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands sit above the kidneys and produce key hormones.

Previous work has suggested that people with type 1 diabetes are ten times more likely to develop Addison’s disease than the general population. With treatment however, people living with Addison’s disease can live an active, healthy life.

That’s why scientists have been keen to help healthcare teams spot the early signs of Addison’s disease within the type 1 diabetes population.

What did they do?

The researchers decided to investigate whether there were any clues in people’s clinical data and drug prescriptions that could be used to predict who will develop Addison’s disease.

The team studied the health records of 330 Swedish people with type 1 diabetes, and 66 people with type 1 also later diagnosed with Addison’s disease.

What did they find?

The researchers found that people who developed Addison’s disease had more cases of thyroid medication and glucagon prescriptions. This group also had more infections that required hospitalisation and more cases of diabetic retinopathy before their diagnosis of Addison’s disease than those with type 1 diabetes only.

There was no difference in HbA1c between the groups, however.

What does this mean for type 1?

These findings suggest that a number of health events could be used to predict who might go on to develop Addison’s disease. This information could help people living with type 1 diabetes and healthcare professionals keep an eye out for early warning signs of Addison’s disease.

The number of participants on this study was relatively low however and confined to Sweden, so more research will be needed to understand if these predictors are also appropriate for other groups of people.

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