Diabetes UK is today (3 December 2020) urging parents not to delay in seeking medical help if they are concerned their child might have symptoms of type 1 diabetes, as new data reveals up to a fifth of diagnoses may have been delayed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Type 1 diabetes is a serious condition, but with the right treatment it can be managed effectively. But timely diagnosis is essential and, if left untreated, symptoms of type 1 diabetes can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a potentially life-threatening condition that requires hospital treatment.
Data published by the UK Association of Children’s Diabetes Clinicians shows that between March and June 2020, 51% of children and young people were only diagnosed once they had developed DKA, and over half of these had severe DKA.
In the 88 diabetes units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that competed the survey, 20% of type 1 diagnoses were delayed, with ‘fear of Covid-19’ (40%), GP access (22%) and misdiagnosis or symptoms not being recognised (17%), among the reasons cited.
Diabetes UK is reminding parents that they should continue to access the NHS as normal, and not let worries about Covid-19 stop them seeking help. The charity is also encouraging people of all ages across the UK to be aware of the signs of type 1 diabetes – the 4Ts – to help ensure that everyone experiencing symptoms gets the help they need quickly, and to allow more people to be diagnosed sooner and more safely.
What are the 4Ts?
- Toilet: Going to the toilet a lot, bed wetting by a previously dry child or heavier nappies in babies
- Thirsty: Being really thirsty and not being able to quench the thirst
- Tired: Feeling more tired than usual
- Thinner: Losing weight or looking thinner than usual
Around 8% of people with diabetes in the UK have type 1 diabetes, and around 1 in 8 of those are aged 18 or under. Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age and is equally common in adults and children. Symptoms can occur very quickly and getting the right medical treatment early on is vital in preventing the onset of life-threatening DKA.
Clare Abbis’ 13-year old daughter, Sophie, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during lockdown in May, when she developed severe DKA. Clare says:
“On 29 May, Sophie became very lethargic and napped in the afternoon, she lost her appetite and was incredibly thirsty, but it was very hot that day so we didn’t think too much of it.
“Initially we thought that because of Covid-19, it wasn’t something we needed to go to the doctor’s for, but by 2am, Sophie had gone downhill rapidly and 111 sent an ambulance. Her glucose levels were found to be very high, so she was rushed to hospital. They worked very hard in A&E to bring her levels down and then she was transferred to a high dependency unit for monitoring. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
“Sophie’s now doing really well and is managing her diabetes herself – she’s just started on the Libre which has made a big difference. Looking back, the 4Ts were there, but type 1 diabetes just wasn’t something we’d ever considered.
Phaedra Perry, Regional Head Diabetes UK South West, said:
“It’s very concerning that many children and young people are not being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes until their symptoms become severe. A quick diagnosis and early treatment for type 1 diabetes are vital to avoiding serious complications, so we urge parents to seek medical attention straight away if you’re worried about your child.
“Anyone – adult or child – can develop type 1 diabetes, and it’s important to be able to spot the 4Ts of type 1 diabetes. The NHS remains open, and if you suspect your child has any of the 4Ts of type 1 diabetes, act fast. Don’t let coronavirus fears stop you from seeking medical help, as the quicker children are diagnosed, the less likely they are to become seriously ill.”
For more information about the signs and symptoms of all types of diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/diabetes-symptoms