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Most parents 'unaware' of type 1 diabetes symptoms

By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard
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14th November 2012 - Nine out of 10 parents do not know the main symptoms of type 1 diabetes, according to a new survey.

Type 1 diabetes is caused when the body's immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas so that the body is unable to produce any insulin. Without insulin, the body is unable to break down glucose for energy, allowing it to build up in the blood stream. The glucose itself is not toxic, but high levels cause symptoms such as frequent urination leading to excessive thirst, and weight loss as the body breaks down fat as an alternative source of energy.  

Lifelong condition

Type 1 diabetes is the least common type of diabetes, accounting for between 5% and 15% of all cases, and occurs most frequently in children and young adults. However, unlike type 2 diabetes, which occurs in later years, type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition.

An IPSOS Mori poll of 1,170 parents has found that only 9% of parents are able to correctly identify the four main symptoms of type 1 diabetes: frequently urinating, excessive thirst, extreme tiredness and unexplained weight loss.

According to the charity Diabetes UK, this lack of understanding is one of the reasons why a quarter of children with type 1 diabetes are only diagnosed once they are already seriously ill with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This is a life-threatening condition which is due to by-products (ketones) from the breakdown of fat. These build up in the blood and cause severe disturbances to the body’s biochemistry. DKA needs immediate specialist treatment in hospital.

One girl from north Somerset was 10 months old when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, but only after two previous examinations by a GP and hospital staff.

Her mother says there were a number of symptoms, including a raging thirst which meant she drank so much that she filled her nappy several times a night. "I took her to my GP at the time and I said to my GP that she might be diabetic and I was assured at the time that all babies drink that much water," she tells BootsWebMD.

"I knew they didn't because I had lots of friends with babies the same age, but that was on the basis that he had two babies and they would drink a lot as well."

Her daughter was only diagnosed on a second visit to A&E when another doctor recommended a blood sugar test. Shortly afterwards, her daughter was in DKA and was unconscious for about three days.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes

4ts_diabetesuk.jpg

Image: A young campaigner promotes the 4 Ts

To address this lack of awareness, Diabetes UK is launching a campaign to highlight what they call the '4 Ts' of type 1 diabetes symptoms: Toilet - Thirsty - Tired - Thinner.

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