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Fear of Covid-19 leading to delays in type 1 diagnoses


Data published by the UK Association of Children’s Diabetes Clinicians shows that fear of the Covid-19 pandemic led to delays in diagnosis for children with type 1 diabetes. More than half of children diagnosed between March and June this year had already developed the potentially life-threatening condition, diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) when they were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

If left untreated, symptoms of type 1 diabetes can lead to DKA, a potentially life-threatening condition which requires hospital treatment.

What does the data tell us?

Data published by the UK Association of Children’s Diabetes Clinicians shows that between March and June 2020, 51% of children diagnosed with type 1 had developed diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), with over half (54%) of these developing severe DKA. Before the pandemic, around 38% of children diagnosed with type 1 presented with DKA.

During the same period, around 1 in 5 type 1 diagnoses were delayed. ‘Fear of Covid-19’ (40%), GP access (22%) and misdiagnosis or symptoms not being recognised (17%), were among the reasons cited.

Visiting your GP during the pandemic might seem scary, but it’s important to go as soon as possible if you spot any signs of diabetes in your child. Your local practice will do everything they can to keep you safe during your visit. Healthcare professionals will be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and everyone will maintain social distancing where possible. It’s also important to remember that although children can catch the virus, very few develop severe symptoms, even if they have an underlying health condition like diabetes.

Although the risk of developing DKA is highest in children, adults can get it too. The best way to prevent it is to get medical help as soon as you spot any symptoms.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

The most common symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Going to the toilet a lot, especially at night.
  • Being really thirsty.
  • Feeling more tired than usual.
  • Losing weight without trying to.
  • Genital itching or thrush.
  • Cuts and wounds take longer to heal.
  • Blurred vision.

These are the symptoms of all diabetes, not just type 1. You might not always notice the signs of type 2 but if you do it’s really important to visit your GP as soon as possible.

Clare Abbis’s 13-year old daughter, Sophie, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during lockdown in May, when she developed severe DKA (Clare and Sophie pictured above).  

Mum, Clare said:

"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 signs were there, but type 1 diabetes just wasn’t something we’d ever considered." 

Dan Howarth, Diabetes Specialist Nurse and our Head of Care said:

Anyone – adult or child – can develop type 1 diabetes, and it’s important to be able to spot the signs of type 1 diabetes. The NHS remains open, and if you suspect your child has any of the signs 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.”


Find out more 

Signs and symptoms of diabetes

Find out more about what to look out for, plus what can happen if you ignore the signs and symptoms.

Guide to diabetic ketoacidosis

DKA happens when there’s a severe lack of insulin in the body. Learn more about what it means to develop it.

If you’re worried about spotting the signs of diabetes, please call our helpline for information, advice or support. The number is 0345 123 2399 and it’s open Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm.

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