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Greater awareness urged over life-threatening condition

Ryan, Carly and Zach with AntoinetteParents of around one in three children who develop type 1 diabetes are unaware their child has the condition until potentially life-threatening complications appear, a senior hospital doctor has warned.

Dr Antoinette McAulay, a consultant paediatrician at Poole Hospital, says that the presence of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) can often be among the first indications that a child has type 1 diabetes, where more common symptoms may not have been spotted.

DKA is a life-threatening complication and develops when fat tissue breaks down because the body cannot obtain energy from glucose due to a lack of insulin. The condition is potentially fatal and requires urgent medical care.

Dr McAulay is urging parents to visit their GP immediately if they see any of the common symptoms of diabetes, including extreme thirst, frequent visits to the toilet, reduced energy levels and weight loss, in their child. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment for type 1 diabetes is vital and prevents DKA developing.

Zach Rees, who is nearly two, was admitted to Poole Hospital’s high dependency unit in late August suffering from DKA after his parents Carly and Ryan, who live in Bournemouth, took him to their GP.

Zach had been unwell with a suspected chest infection for around a week, but began to drink far more than usual, pass urine far more frequently and lose weight.

Unaware that their son was showing typical symptoms of type 1 diabetes, they took a sample of Zach’s urine to their GP, who referred the toddler to the children’s diabetes service at Poole Hospital the same day.

“The sugar levels were really high,” said Carly. “The GP even asked if there was any way the pot could have had sugar in it already.

“That’s when the alarm bells started ringing for us - diabetes was one of the thoughts in the back of my mind but as a mum you wonder if you’re just overreacting.”

Children with DKA can be so unwell that they require hospital admission to a high dependency unit (HDU) to receive intravenous fluids and insulin, as well as round-the-clock monitoring for up to 48 hours.

At Poole Hospital, a blood test confirmed Zach’s diagnosis and he spent 24 hours on the high dependency unit, and a further two nights in the children’s unit.

“It was a complete shock, I thought the blood test would be routine – I didn’t expect Zach to be admitted onto a high dependency unit,” said Ryan.

The couple now want to warn others to be alert to the symptoms of diabetes and if concerned, visit their GP as soon as possible.

“Knowing what we know now, I would urge anyone concerned to go straight to their GP,” said Carly.

 “We were told when Zach was admitted to hospital if we had waited any longer it could have been a lot worse.”

“His diabetes is being managed now and he’s a lot brighter and getting back to his old self.”

Zach is one of around 30 children a year diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at Poole Hospital. Worryingly, says Dr McAulay, almost a third of these children also have DKA at the time of diagnosis.

“Parents concerned that their child may have diabetes should go to their GP, where a simple urine or immediate finger prick blood test can show whether diabetes is present or not,” said Dr McAulay.

“Referral to the hospital on the day of diagnosis can prevent deterioration to DKA.

“DKA is a life-threatening complication of type 1 diabetes but it is avoidable – I hope that by raising awareness of the condition and its symptoms, and Zach’s story, we can help prevent more children from falling seriously ill.”

The Diabetes UK charity has launched a campaign to raise awareness of diabetes and DKA – find out more at http://www.diabetes.org.uk/

Date: 14 October 2015

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