Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Warning: Undiagnosed Diabetes Kills!

I have lost count of how many of these stories I have heard in the last five months since the Chief was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. It is terrifying, infuriating and utterly confounding.

Just last week a young boy in the United States died in his bed from ketoacidosis after suffering from undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes. His parents thought he had a stomach virus. But within days he had slipped into a coma and died after his parents were unable to wake him one morning.
And now the classmate of a close friend's son is seriously ill in intensive care after his GP failed to diagnose diabetes. A naturally athletic and active boy his mum was understandably concerned when she noticed him going off his food and losing a significant amount of weight. The GP told her there was a stomach bug going around but that evening her son collapsed.

This does should not happen. We must ensure that both parents and GPs are more aware of the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes and how easy it is to diagnose.

The symptoms are often some combination of the following:
  1. Excessive thirst. Have you noticed your child drinking more than other children or more than they used to?
  2. Frequent urination. Has your child had any bed-wetting incidents after being toilet trained? Do they wake in the night to go to the toilet? When out do they ask to be taken to the toilet more than other children or do they go more than you do?
  3. Extreme hunger or loss of appetite. Miss Chief was exceptionally hungry leading up to diagnosis and in fact we thought it was a growth spurt. But some children may lose their appetite, especially as the disease progresses. In advanced stages vomiting may occur.
  4. Sudden and/or extreme weight loss. Most of us don't weigh our children but perhaps they seem a bit thinner. Maybe their clothes have become a bit baggier.
  5. Tiredness and lethargy. Is your child sleeping more or less active than usual?

If your child has any of these symptoms take them straight to your GP. Please, please insist that your GP does a blood glucose (sugar) test. It is a quick and simple procedure that consists of either testing a urine sample or pricking the finger tip to obtain a small sample of blood. Do not feel like a paranoid parent and do not accept the response of "it's just a virus" until you are certain that glucose levels are normal in your child. Normal levels in a non-diabetic are between 4.0 and 7.8 mmol/litre. Chief was 24mmol/litre when diagnosed but I have heard of children with levels in the 40s!

If your child does not present any of these symptoms then ask your GP whether they would be willing to do a blood glucose test in these circumstances. Tell them these stories and if they seem dismissive then I strongly encourage you to consider changing GPs if you are able. Both Chief's GP and a GP friend of mine routinely test every child that presents with an apparently severe stomach bug, especially when accompanied by any of the above symptoms. This is the way it should be for all GPs but sadly many of them just aren't aware.

Please share this with all the parents you know, and even non-parents and ask them to share it with all the parents they know. We must get the word out. We don't know why but this disease is on the increase and it is so important to catch it in the early days to prevent serious illness and death.

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