My daughter was 11 months old. For the preceding 3 months she had lost a lot of weight, so much so that the health visitor at the community centre (in Brighton, UK) where I took her for weighing once a month recommended that she be seen by a doctor. But when I took her to our doctor, she just said ‘Let’s keep an eye on it’.
In addition to losing weight, my daughter started drinking loads of water, wetting her nappy unusually frequently and instead of being her usual little sweetheart self she became ratty and miserable and she cried a lot.
My husband and I started to think something was wrong when it got to the point that she would finish a beaker of water in one sitting and her nappies were completely saturated one hour after she had gone to bed. One evening my husband and I discussed what the cause of the drinking and peeing was: The heat wave that we were experiencing? Salt in the food that we didn’t know was there? And then it hit me.
I remembered that at secondary school during a health education lesson the teacher had talked about Type 1 diabetes. I somehow recalled that the symptoms listed were excessive drinking and peeing.
So, I booked an appointment for her to see the doctor the following day.
At the doctor’s surgery I voiced my concerns about Type 1 diabetes. The GP didn’t take it seriously and asked us to come back in three days time if my daughter was still feeling ‘poorly’.
But having Googled Type 1 diabetes before the appointment, I was prepared. More specifically, I had collected a urine sample from my daughter beforehand and I asked the doctor to dip the urine to check whether there was sugar in it (indicating diabetes).
The doctor dipped it, re-dipped it, and turned to me to ask if there was any chance that the Tupperware box I brought the urine sample in was contaminated with sugar. In-between tears all I could was whisper: ‘No.’
The doctor rang the hospital, where they urged us to drive over immediately. But before we left for that hospital visit that confirmed that my daughter was indeed Type 1 diabetic the GP said:
‘Lucky you had the urine sample with you’.
Yes. My daughter was lucky. She was ‘lucky’ because a teacher in Finland had spent 5 minutes talking about Type 1 diabetes and I vaguely remembered what the symptoms were. Whereas, shockingly, the doctor in the UK didn’t recognise the typical symptoms of Type 1 diabetes that my daughter was displaying: weight loss, excessive thirst, excessive peeing and tiredness, even when these were specifically spelled out to her.
Worse still, I don’t think this GP was a one-off case. Most people in the UK, including many GPs, seem to be oblivious to these symptoms, even though the UK has the fifth highest number of Type 1 diabetics in the world per capita (approx. 32,000 Type 1 diabetic children under the age of 14 years) and has about 2000 people diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes annually (ref.). Instead, it seems that GPs, the press, and thus also the general population in the UK are more aware of the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes (a less dangerous condition, that often affects people over the age of 40).
Had I not remembered that health education session from my Finnish high school, the chances are that, similarly to 1 in 4 Type 1 diabetic children in the UK whose diabetes is not diagnosed in time, my daughter would have collapsed, convulsed and needed serious and urgent hospital care. After all, when we got to the hospital my daughter’s blood sugar level was so high that the hospital’s blood sugar meter could not read it (> 42 mmol/L). Such high blood glucose level indicates that she had a huge insulin deficiency and as a consequence she was likely to start developing something called diabetic ketoacidosis, an extremely dangerous complication of Type 1 diabetes which, if left untreated, will lead to coma, organ failure or even death in a matter of hours. The thought of us following the GP’s suggestion to go back home for another three days is a thought I don’t really want to think about.
We were lucky, but many parents whose child is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes go through the frightening experience of diabetic ketoacidosis, and even worse, some parents lose their child because of it. These medical emergencies could be relatively easily avoided by educating people (and GPs) about Type 1 diabetes.
So, to contribute to many Type 1 diabetics’ and/or their parents’ attempts to educate people, below I have written a short description of Type 1 diabetes and added a picture of the four most common symptoms of Type 1 diabetes (taken from diabetes.co.uk). If your high school health education syllabus did not include Type 1 diabetes, I would recommend you familiarise yourself with the symptoms and make your friends aware of them as well.
Type 1 diabetes in a nutshell
Type 1 diabetes is not the same as Type 2 diabetes, the latter of these being the one that most of us have heard about in the news, and is most commonly associated with lifestyle choices. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune illness whose onset is usually in childhood, puberty or early adulthood, but people of any age can develop it. Importantly, the amount of sugar/fat in one’s diet or the patient’s weight or activity level is not related to the onset of Type 1 diabetes.
In Type 1 diabetes, like in other autoimmune deceases, for some reason white cells attack the person’s other cells. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, the cells that have been attacked and destroyed are the Beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, a vital hormone that enables glucose (sugar, carbs) being transferred from blood stream to the cells as energy. Without insulin a person will die in a matter of days. Thus, Type 1 diabetics need to inject insulin every day (in fact many times a day). No diet or herbal remedy will take away the need of insulin in these patients.
Type 1 diabetes – Typical symptoms pre diagnosis
You can read more about our life as a family with a young diabetic child here, here and here.