Learn all about T1 diabetes and how to spot the signs in children…
Diagnosis of T1 diabetes is increasing by around 4%* every year and affects children as well as adults. Find out more information about type 1 diabetes, including how to spot the signs and how individuals live with the condition.
What Is Type 1 Diabetes?
T1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition. Contrary to popular myth, T1 diabetes is not caused by poor diet or an unhealthy lifestyle and there is nothing those who are diagnosed with it would have been able to do to prevent it.
T1 diabetes occurs when a person’s immune system attacks its own insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It’s not yet fully understood why this happens. Type 1 diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition and affects 400,000 people in the UK. Over 29,000 of them are children.†
Why Do We Need Insulin?
Insulin moves the energy (known as glucose) from the food we eat into the cells of our body. When our bodies don’t make insulin, the glucose levels in our blood starts to rise and impact on the body’s functions. High levels of glucose can damage organs, nerves, and blood vessels.
Spot The Signs Of T1
Many of the early symptoms of T1 diabetes can go unnoticed. Learning how to spot the signs can help parents who suspect their child might have type 1 diabetes.
The Four Ts are the most common symptoms to look out for:
- TOILET – Going to the toilet a lot more, especially at night.
- THIRSTY – Being extremely thirsty.
- TIRED – Feeling a lot more tired than usual.
- THINNER – Losing weight without trying or meaning to.
Every person is different but the Four Ts are the key signs to look out for. Other symptoms can include:
- Increased hunger
- Wounds or cuts taking longer to heal
- Genital itching or thrush
- Blurred eyesight
- Fruity-smelling breath (almost like pear drops)
- Behaviour changes – could appear as if drunk
- Grunting while breathing or heavy breathing
The symptoms of T1 diabetes can happen very quickly – in fact, the onset happens over a matter of days or weeks, not months.
What To Do If You Suspect Your Child Has T1 Diabetes
Contact your GP immediately if you suspect your child has the early symptoms of type 1 diabetes. If your child has more severe symptoms, they may be in DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis), a dangerous, life-threatening condition that requires urgent medical attention. DKA occurs when blood levels have been too high for too long and the body starts to break down fat cells instead, hence the dramatic and sudden weight loss usually seen in T1 individuals.
The signs of DKA are:
- Heavy or laboured breathing
- Excessive thirst
- Stomach pains
- Stupor, confusion, or unconsciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
DKA is extremely serious and can be fatal. Anyone experiencing these symptoms needs to go directly to hospital.
Is T1 Hereditary?
JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) report that around 90% of people with T1 diabetes have no family history of the condition.
Treating T1 Diabetes
Sadly, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes, but it can be managed by injecting insulin. There are two types of insulin:
- Basal (or background) Insulin
This is injected once or twice a day and gives your body a long-acting background of insulin. This helps to keep your glucose levels stable between meals and overnight.
- Bolus (fast-acting) Insulin
This is for taking with food or meals to reduce the rise in blood glucose which is caused by eating or drinking. Bolus insulin is needed when you eat a meal with carbohydrates in it.
Insulin is injected via a pen or an insulin pump. Learning how to inject insulin can be scary but your healthcare team will talk you through it and be with you every step of the way. Those with type 1 diabetes will need to do regular finger prick tests using a glucose meter to check their blood sugar levels. This helps to manage diabetes by avoiding too high (hyper) or too low (hypo) blood sugar levels which can cause serious medical problems.
Dealing With Hypos
A hypo occurs when a person’s bloody sugar levels drop too low. It’s important to treat a hypo quickly because it could get worse and cause fits or unconsciousness. When a person has a hypo, they start to feel unwell and need to treat it with a fast-acting carbohydrate, such as a small carton of pure fruit juice or glucose tablets.
Living With T1 Diabetes Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes can be scary and deeply distressing but with the right support, most people learn how to manage their diabetes and live a full and happy life. There are, of course, many factors to consider in day-to-day life, from carb counting to adjusting insulin for sport. It can be stressful and makes everyday activities like eating out much more difficult. There’s lots of brilliant support out there for young people with diabetes to help them manage their wellbeing and mental health, as well as their condition. Read a first-hand account of living teenage life with diabetes here.
Support For Young People With T1 Diabetes
Diabetes UK https://www.diabetes.org.uk/