Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.
Jordana Haber Hazan, MD, is board-certified in emergency medicine and currently works as an academic emergency physician.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects more than 37 million people in the United States. Often, there is no distinction among the main types of diabetes. However, when the wrong type of diabetes is diagnosed, it can lead to serious health issues. Blood and stool tests can test for the different types of diabetes, providing a firm diagnosis.
This article will discuss type 1, type 2, and type 3c diabetes misdiagnosis. It will also cover how to confirm a diabetes diagnosis.

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Mistaking type 1 for type 2 diabetes is a severe and dangerous issue. People with type 2 diabetes tend to be diagnosed later in life. They may or may not need medication to manage their diabetes. Often, the treatment is an oral medication. Whereas people with type 1 diabetes need insulin injections.
People with type 2 diabetes can have similar symptoms as those with type 1. These include:
These symptoms can occur in either type of diabetes, which makes distinguishing the two difficult.
What becomes dangerous for someone with type 1 diabetes, and is not diagnosed correctly, is that they can develop a severe and life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This condition causes the blood to become too acidic. The symptoms include:
Type 1 diabetes was traditionally thought of as a childhood condition. However, a study found that 38% of participants over 30 years old were misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes and did not receive the correct treatment.
Type 1 diabetes, also called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes, is when the pancreas stops making or does not make enough insulin. It is caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body destroys the insulin-making cells of the pancreas.
Type 1 diabetes is far less common than type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is commonly diagnosed in children and young adults but can be diagnosed at any point in a person’s lifetime.
Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed with various blood tests. One test is an antibody test. This is only used to diagnose type 1 diabetes, not type 2 diabetes. Therefore, it is not common for type 2 diabetes to be mistaken for type 1 diabetes.
Someone can have type 2 diabetes and then have an autoimmune reaction that causes type 1 diabetes later in life. However, type 2 diabetes cannot turn into type 1 diabetes.
The two jobs of the pancreas are to make insulin and digest fat. In type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not make any or enough insulin. In type 3c diabetes, also called pancreatogenic diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin and does not properly digest fat.
About 80% of the time, pancreatitis causes type 3c diabetes. Other causes include:
According to a 2016 study, there is no universal basis to diagnose type 3c diabetes. The study continues to say that a person's diagnosis may be based on the following criteria:
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have set diagnostic standards, but type 3c does not. This may make it difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose.
Secondary diabetes is when someone develops diabetes due to another condition. Conditions that have been identified to cause secondary diabetes are:
Medications like steroids can also cause secondary diabetes.
Type 3c diabetes is a subcategory of secondary diabetes. When someone is diagnosed with diabetes, it may be driven by a condition that causes an increase in blood glucose (sugar). If the condition is not identified as a causative factor, it may be misdiagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
Research is lacking on statistics of misdiagnosed diabetes. However, there are estimates that approximately 7.3 million adults 18 years or older have undiagnosed diabetes.
A 2017 study suggests that 40% of people in the hospital diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have type 3c diabetes.

Each type of diabetes is diagnosed differently. Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed with blood tests. A high glucose test will tell healthcare providers that the pancreas is not making enough insulin. However, this could indicate a person has either type 1 or 2 diabetes. An antibody test is used to confirm type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed with a blood sugar test called fasting plasma glucose. For this test, you fast (don’t eat) overnight and have your blood drawn for the test. A result of more than 126 milligrams of sugar per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) indicates that you have type 2 diabetes. Some healthcare providers may also use the antibody test to ensure you do not have type 1 diabetes.
Type 3c diabetes is diagnosed when you have diabetes, are positive for undigested food in your stool, and have a condition that affects your pancreas.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects millions of people in the United States. There are different types of diabetes, and the symptoms of each type overlap. This can lead to a misdiagnosis. Thankfully, there are blood and stool tests that can guide healthcare providers and give them an accurate diagnosis.
A diabetes misdiagnosis can cause serious harm, especially if you have type 1 diabetes but are treated as if you have type 2 diabetes. Report all of your symptoms to your healthcare providers. If you do not feel better after treatment, continue to advocate for yourself. And if you have diabetes, talk to a specialist who is familiar with the different types and can guide you through the best treatment plan.

Thyroid conditions can increase someone's risk of developing diabetes and may be mistaken for diabetes.
There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Many other types of diabetes, like type 3c and secondary, are subcategories of type 2 diabetes.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National diabetes statistics report.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Type 1 diabetes.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Type 2 diabetes.
MedlinePlus. Diabetic ketoacidosis.
Bao YK, Ma J, Ganesan VC, et al. Mistaken identity: missed diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in an older adultMed Res Arch. 2019;7(8):1962.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is type 1 diabetes?
Hart PA, Bellin MD, Andersen DK, et al. Type 3c (pancreatogenic) diabetes mellitus secondary to chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancerLancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2016;1(3):226-237. doi:10.1016/S2468-1253(16)30106-6
Nomiyama T, Yanase T. Secondary diabetesNihon Rinsho. 2015;73(12):2008-2012.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes statistics.
Woodmansey C, McGovern AP, McCullough KA, et al. Incidence, demographics, and clinical characteristics of diabetes of the exocrine pancreas (type 3c): a retrospective cohort studyDiabetes Care. 2017;40(11):1486-1493. doi:10.2337/dc17-0542
Wang C. The relationship between type 2 diabetes mellitus and related thyroid diseasesJ Diabetes Res. 2013;2013:390534. doi:10.1155/2013/390534
By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.

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