Child diabetes 'is being missed'

Boy asleep on desk Being more sleepy than usual can be a sign of diabetes

Your child has a raging thirst and is rapidly losing weight. What could be behind it - it couldn't be diabetes - could it?

In this week's Scrubbing Up, Barbara Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK, says there needs to be more awareness of the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, so it can be detected more quickly to prevent children from becoming seriously unwell.

The idea of rushing your child to hospital and then watching them fight for their life is the stuff of parents' nightmares.

Yet for hundreds of parents every year in the UK, that is the reality of a diagnosis for Type 1 diabetes.

Some children become so unwell that they fall unconscious and a small number even die.

This is horrendous enough, but what is really shocking is that the 500 children a year who become seriously ill with something called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) are doing so unnecessarily.

In Type 1 diabetes DKA happens due to the severe lack of insulin which upsets the body's normal chemical balance leading to the production of poisonous chemicals called ketones, the build-up of which can be fatal if left unchecked.

'A matter of days'

But Type 1 diabetes has some really obvious symptoms.

Children who develop it typically need to urinate a lot; are very thirsty; lose weight quickly; and feel very tired.

By picking up on all or any of these symptoms and getting a doctor to do a test, a parent can ensure their child starts getting treatment before DKA has a chance to develop.

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Type 1 diabetes isn't at the forefront of their minds”

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That can happen in a matter of days.

Parents need to be aware of the dangers signs - the four Ts - Toilet, Thirsty, Tired and Thinner.

But that's only part of the picture.

One of the things that's most shocking about diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes is that in some cases parents do identify the symptoms and ask for a test but are told by their GP that it is probably just a virus or infection and that they should come back in a week if symptoms persist.

Sometimes, that decision to "watch and wait" results in children developing DKA and could even be fatal.

High glucose warning

So why are medical practitioners not diagnosing Type 1?

The first thing is that they might not be aware of the symptoms themselves.

Around 90% of parents don't know all the Ts, and it is likely that this lack of awareness also extends to healthcare professionals.

But perhaps it's more likely that Type 1 diabetes isn't at the forefront of their minds.

About 2,000 children a year are diagnosed with the condition, though when you divide that by the number of GPs in the UK, it is clear that many of them could go some years without seeing a case.

We will be working with healthcare professionals - particularly GPs, practice nurses, and accident and emergency staff - to ensure they take the precautionary approach of giving every child with any one of these symptoms a test for Type 1.

Then if that test shows that the child has abnormally high glucose levels, that child should be referred to a specialist paediatric diabetes team the same day, as any delay can result in DKA.

It is possible for us to help the hundreds of children with Type 1 diabetes - and help them avoid the trauma of DKA.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Targeted Diabetes education will be helpful. How many know this? "South Asian people who live in the UK are up to six times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes than the white European population, and with diabetes prevalence in England predicted to increase by 47 per cent by 2025, the condition will continue to have a considerable impact on South Asian communities across the UK." Report 2009

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Looks like this is an area where education is definitely required.

    How about an ad campaign something like the "F.A.S.T." one they had to promote Stroke awareness?

    That would at least help public awareness.

    Doctors should know anyway shouldn't they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    @10. ant

    For some it can be a much much longer timescale.

    .. and even then it took a chance comment during an unrelated GP consultation.

  • Comment number 11.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @6 whereas the number of undiagnosed diabetics are high. After a few weeks with type 1 you would lose all of your body fat, sleep for 18 hours a day and would have drunk so much water that your the salt imbalance would start showing serious effects and admission to hospital is imminant. People go years with T2 as it's a completely different disease, this snapshot statistic has always been flawed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Ketone testing strips are also available - a simple urinary drip or two and you have a result after a minute or so. What is the difference between doing a UTI test at a GP and getting blood glucometer and ketone strip tests? Takes minutes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Frankly it takes seconds to see if you have high blood sugar - a glucometer is available at any GP -and though it is not the final diagnostic tool it can help to identify the need for immediate intervention and/or the need for further tests.If they can take a few minutes to test our urine for a UTI, use a blood pressure cuff to check our pressure then they can use a glucometer for warning signals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Lots of young people get thin because they are on some diet or other ,familys dont always eat together so miss things , also how many youngstes flop about tired because of up late on the computer ! and to be honest some parents just are not observant or are busy running a job and the house etc because the way things are now it takes two jobs to keep the home going .

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It was always claimed that for every diabetic there was another person who didn't realise they also had the condition.

    Diabetes is a huge problem that requires far greater public awareness and attention from our medical providers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Coming from a diabetic family it's easy to see the signs. Hopefully parents would see such drastic changes in drinking and toilet habits and make enquiries.

    Hopefully this article and others will raise awareness. A decade ago no one knew how to spot meningitis now it is known by the vast majority. Unfortunately some parents will neither read the news or notice the changes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Let's hope these unnecessary NHS cuts don't make the problem worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    better to be safe than sorry

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Kid of mine nearly died because GPs and medical centre nurses repeatedly failed to spot the symptoms mentioned here.

    I welcome the awareness campaign, but taking lessons of these people would stick in my craw.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Always keep an eye on the young uns - they're the Future.


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