Symptoms of type 1 diabetes

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes are very noticeable and onset is early in life. However, the disease often goes undiagnosed until the person has a life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis.

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Type 1 diabetes mainly affects children and adolescents, from as young as 12 months of age, and in rare cases even earlier, through adolescence, and young adults in their early 20s.

In other words, parents need to be aware of the link between type 1 diabetes and the following symptoms:

• Intense thirst – an urge to drink often and large amounts at a time
• Increased urination – especially at night. If a child who has been out of nappies for a long time starts wetting their pants or the bed, this should be investigated
• Poor general health – the child appears weak and tires easily
• Increased or reduced appetite
• Weight loss

Diabetic ketoacidosis 

Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when the body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones as a result of excessively high blood sugar from lack of insulin. The blood acids appear because the body starts to burn fat instead of sugar. The longer this condition persists, the worse the outcome.

Without emergency treatment, the body temperature drops heavily, the patient slips into a coma, and in the worst case may die.

Typical symptoms are the same as those listed above, but also include:

• Dizziness
• Shortness of breath, altered breathing
• Breath that smells fruity or like acetone (nail polish remover)
• Stomach pain, retching
• Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea

Type 1 diabetes as a disease is very simple to diagnose. A blood test from your GP, done by a little prick to the finger, will be enough.

Knowledge saves lives

According to a study from 2011, type 1 diabetes is often discovered so late that serious complications are already present. In Europe and North America, as many as 22-54 per cent of cases are not diagnosed until the life-threatening complication diabetic ketoacidosis is present. In other words, being informed of the symptoms saves lives. 

In Italy, awareness-raising campaigns have had a very good effect. Some years ago, as many as 78 per cent of children and adolescents developed diabetic ketoacidosis before they were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Following an awareness-raising campaign aimed at both healthcare professionals and the general public, this was reduced to 12 per cent.