Lately it seems Type 1 diabetes has been in the news, the worst kind of news: the reports are of new cases only diagnosed after a child has died. It seems implausible to me that this could happen, and I really don’t like to focus on the negative of anything, but the fact is… it has happened. How could it get that far? And more frightening of all… how could a physician, any physician, miss the signs? Or, at the very least, consider all of the possibilities? That just one finger stick and a tiny spot of blood could rule out this chronic and debilitating disease?
And this is why we “D-parents,” as we often call ourselves, are so eager to educate and get the word out. We don’t want to hear any more tragic stories of diagnoses that, had they come soon enough, would not have ended this way. So it is with this heavy heart and good intention that I share this very simple information with you… and implore you to share it with everyone you know, too. Most people may never have to use it, but – as more and more new cases of Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed in children today – more than 15,000 every year *– someone, somewhere, can benefit from a little bit of knowledge. That someone may very well be someone you know.
FACT: Type 1 diabetes, also known as Juvenile Diabetes, is an autoimmune disorder that comes on suddenly. It cannot be ignored, there is currently no cure, and the individual who develops Type 1 WILL need insulin to survive.
FACT: Many cases of Type 1 in children come as “surprise” – there can be a genetic factor, yet researchers also cite environmental factors, as well as viruses, as triggers. In many cases, there is no other traceable family history of the disease (unlike Type 2 diabetes).
FACT: Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, is often misunderstood by the general population, and is frequently confused with Type 2 diabetes. They are NOT the same.
FACT: Diabetic ketoacidosis, also known as DKA, is a serious but often preventable emergency that can arise from high blood glucose levels in the body. Undetected high glucose levels can quickly progress to difficulty breathing, shock, coma, and even death.*
FACT: People don’t die from Type 1 diabetes; they can die from complications of Type 1 diabetes including, but not limited to, hypoglycemia (extremely low blood sugar that went untreated), and DKA. These are the two most serious issues Type 1s face.
The children I read about in the news recently died from diabetic ketoacidosis. Their parents did take them to a doctor for symptoms they were having, but those physicians either missed the signs, or didn’t consider Type 1 diabetes in their assessment. The tragedy in all of these cases is that a simple finger stick test would have confirmed or ruled out Type 1 diabetes. One finger stick, to test blood glucose levels. Or, a urine test, which would have measured ketones (acids found in urine, related to high blood glucose levels) and thus, diagnosed diabetes.
My daughter had DKA at diagnosis. Her blood sugar in the pediatrician’s office the day I carried her limp, vomiting and rapidly-breathing 2-year-old body in after a week of marathon drinking and urinating: 416. She had large ketones. She spent 36 hours in CHOP’s PICU, the first 8 being monitored for signs of coma. Your, or your child’s, blood glucose reading, if you took it right now: mostly likely, 70-80.
Please, please, please share these symptoms with everyone you know.
SYMPTOMS of TYPE 1 DIABETES:
- Extreme thirst (as in, your child cannot get enough to drink)
- Frequent urination (as in, your child is constantly in the bathroom, or saturating diapers more than several times a day)
- Drowsiness, lethargy (as in, your child doesn’t want to get up, and is very very tired, or sleeping a lot)
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss (as in, your child looks thinner than usual)
- Increased appetite (as always hungry/eating, but still losing/not gaining weight)
- Fruity, or sweet-smelling, breath
- General feeling of unwell, or, in some cases, obviously ill in combination with any of the above mentioned symptoms
I want to point out that my daughter had all of these symptoms (the first 2 for a week before the others occurred) except that she was NOT ill before the symptoms began (the son of a friend of mine WAS sick with an unrelated illness prior to developing symptoms) and she actually exhibited a decrease in appetite. By week’s end, she was very ill and had developed the more serious signs that brought us to the doctor.
SYMPTOMS of DKA:
Symptoms as listed above but progressing to:
- Lack of appetite
- Pains in the stomach
- Vomiting or feeling nauseous
- Blurry vision
- Difficulty breathing
- Feelings of weakness
- Fever, warm, dry, or flushed skin
- Stupor, unconsciousness
Many of the above symptoms mimic symptoms of other illnesses, like the flu. This is why it is important to know the signs and symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, and pay attention to your child especially if he/she does not appear to be “getting better.”
Which brings me to one more symptom the resources don’t mention that I want to add to the list:
YOUR gut feeling that something just isn’t right. There’s no wrong in overreacting where your child’s illness is concerned. The old adage, “better to be safe than sorry,” could not be more important.
Know the symptoms. Share the symptoms. You could just save a life.
**This post was written 4 years ago, and I wanted to add that the above symptoms can happen to ANYONE. NOT just children. A friend of mine was misdiagnosed a couple of years ago with type 2 diabetes, and the medical care she was receiving wasn’t improving her health. She lost almost 40 pounds. Today, she lives with Type ONE diabetes, AND wears an insulin pump. **
*Sources: JDRF, and the ADA’s Complete Guide to Diabetes.
*** This post is no way intended to be medical advice. Please consult your physician.