Parents 'unaware of type 1 diabetes symptoms'

Girl injecting herself with insulin Type 1 diabetes is treated with daily insulin doses

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About 90% of parents are unaware of the four key symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children, a survey suggests.

The poll of 1,170 parents, for Diabetes UK, suggests many cases go undetected until the child becomes seriously ill.

In the BBC News website Scrubbing Up column, its chief executive says about 2,000 under-18s are diagnosed with the condition in the UK each year.

The main signs are tiredness, needing the toilet more, excessive thirst and weight loss.

An estimated 3.7 million people in the UK have diabetes.

Type 1 affects about 10% of them. It appears before the age of 40, usually in childhood. It is treated by daily insulin doses - taken either by injections or via an insulin pump - a healthy diet and regular physical activity

Type 2 develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly.

Diabetes UK poster The campaign highlights the four main signs of the disease

Most of the parents surveyed knew thirstiness and tiredness were warning signs. But only 38% knew passing urine frequently was an indication of type 1 diabetes, while even fewer - 28% - linked weight loss with the condition.

The charity says this is one reason why a quarter of children with type 1 diabetes are only diagnosed once they are already seriously ill with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a life threatening condition that needs immediate specialist treatment in hospital.

DKA happens when the body is unable to break down glucose because there is too little insulin, and it begins to break down fat instead.

This causes a by-product called ketones to build up. DKA can lead to children falling into a coma and can even cause death.

Diabetes UK is launching a campaign to raise awareness among parents and professionals.

Barbara Young, chief executive for Diabetes UK, said: "The symptoms of type 1 diabetes are so obvious and pronounced that there is no reason why every child with the condition cannot be diagnosed straight away.

"As well as making parents and those who look after and work with children aware of the symptoms, we need to increase understanding that a child who has any of the four tees needs to be tested straight away.

"This is because onset can be so quick that a delay of a matter of hours can be the difference between being diagnosed at the right time and being diagnosed too late."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Type 1 can develop rapidly....I knew something was wrong with my 11 year old daughter. I took her to our GP he weighed & measured her & inferred she was anorexic, advising me to take her to our local hospital for bloods to be taken the next day. I didn't have to wait that long as I had to carry her into A & E three hours later with blood sugar of 60. Everyone needs (re)educating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The NHS Direct child symptom checker just says to take the child to A&E if they are unusually tired. No opportunity to specify other symptoms. Surely they could trust us with a little more information. If symptoms are "so obvious" then the online expert system should have no trouble with the diagnosis. It is unfair to imply the public are ignorant while withholding information. Can be improved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    As a teacher I have alerted parents to what I have believed to be diabetes type symptoms. Not always type 1, but type 2 as well. Mood changes, unusual eating patterns, thirst, sweats and so on. Parents have sometimes followed through, but have been incredibly ignorant of the possibility of it being diabetes. I am no expert, but I have seen a lot of kids over the years! Education is badly needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I've had type 1 for over 30 years now. At the age of about 17 I suddenly started losing weight, quickly lost 5 stone (I was overweight to begin with), and had a permanent, unquenchable thirst. I eventually ended up at the age of almost 21 in hospital in France with DKA - ending up in a coma for a day or two. Unusual, yes, but it can take some time to reach crisis point. I'm still here though!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @2. Stereotonic

    That's really great that you learnt how to manage your daughter's friend's condition, I wish more people would be that proactive, however, I am concerned that you learnt to give her an epi pen too unless she also suffers from anaphylaxis? The epi part of the name is because the pen contains epinephrine, an adrenaline administered when the airway closes during anaphylactic shock.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Jon T, it needs to be emphasised that someone with Type 2 Diabetes requiring Insulin therapy does not then become Type 1.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    It is good that you clearly make a distinction between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. As a Type 1 diabetic of many years, I get tired of hearing that "diabetes" is almost a lifestyle choice (being overweight, eating the wrong food, etc.) and I doubt that it helps young Type 1s to hear that this dreadful and life-threatening condition is somehow their fault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I am 19 now, and was diagnosed at 18 in mid February of this year. The speed at which DKA kicks in can vary - I went undiagnosed for about a year, year and a half give or take. The DKA didn't kick in until February and it lasted five days before I went to A/E nearly in a coma. It's rapid when it hits - but until then? The signs aren't always so obvious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Type 1 Diabetes appears rapidly, with symptoms of tiredness, going to the toilet more frequently, weight loss and thirst.
    Type 2 symptoms appear slowly, upo to ten years, but include similar symptoms as Type 1. Type 2 mainly affects white people over the age of 40 and over 25 in Black and South Asian people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.


    Spot on Jo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Type 1 Diabetes starts very fast - in days. The immune system attacks the pancreas and basically kills the part that produces insulin. Earlier this year my son went from being totally healthy (non-diabetic) to nearing DKA in 8 days.

    Also you can start Type 1 Diabetes at any age. My father-in-law was diagnosed a few months after my son, and he is in his 60s.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    My daughter has a friend with diabetes. When they were young, my daughter stayed at her friend's house, but I couldn't return the favour, so I spent time with her family and learnt how to test her blood, what foods to give her, load up her epi pen and inject her if need be, so she could stay at ours. It gave her parents a rest and got her doing things every other kid does

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Barbara Young seems somewhat deficient in common sense - there must be stages in the development of the illness when it is harder to detect, before the stage when it should be obvious, and the speed with which this happens must vary. It is easy to be wise after the event.


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