A new campaign by Scottish Government, NHS Scotland and Diabetes Scotland, is encouraging healthcare professionals, parents and carers to look for the warning signs of Type 1 diabetes in an effort to improve early diagnosis.
Currently, around one in four children who are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in Scotland already have a potentially life-threatening condition called Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). In children under five that increases to one in three.
DKA happens when a severe lack of insulin means the body cannot use glucose for energy, and starts to break down other body tissue as an alternative energy source. However, early diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes can prevent this fatal condition from occurring in the first place.
Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age and symptoms to look out for include increased thirst, feeling more tired, losing weight and needing to go to the toilet more often. A simple blood or urine test is all that is required to decide whether a referral to a diabetes specialist is needed.
Efforts to promote Type 1 diabetes warning signs
Campaign materials have been sent to all GP surgeries and local diabetes networks are working within boards to spread awareness. A second round of local alerts and guidelines will be circulated to GPs via the clinical networks soon. Further work is also planned targeted at young adolescents and teenagers early next year.
Globally, Scotland has the fifth highest incidence of Type 1 diabetes, and this is increasing by around three per cent a year – a trend common across most western countries.
Onset of Type 1 diabetes is not associated with lifestyle factors, and the reasons why rates are increasing are not fully understood. People with the condition are not able to produce insulin, and need to control their blood glucose levels with regular injections of insulin or through the use of an insulin pump.
'Early diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes is crucial'
Maureen Watt MSP, Minister for Public Health, said: “As with most conditions, early diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes is crucial. The sooner it can be diagnosed, and appropriate treatment given, the better. Once diagnosed, there’s no reason why a person with Type 1 diabetes shouldn’t lead a long, healthy and fully active life.
“Sadly, there are still children who are seriously ill by the time they are diagnosed with onset Type 1 diabetes. This causes unnecessary suffering to them and to their families. By spotting the early warning signs and getting tested all this can be avoided.
“If your child has lost weight, is going to the toilet more often, is feeling constantly tired or is more thirsty, take them to the GP as soon as you can. Your doctor will carry out a simple test and, if necessary, they will be referred to a specialist.”
Jane-Claire Judson, National Director at Diabetes Scotland, said: “A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes is a lot for any child and their family to take in and respond to. It fundamentally changes a child’s life and has significant repercussions for the family and how they live their lives. What can make this transition even harder is if your child’s symptoms are not picked up early and they experience severe DKA.
New collective approach
“This is an avoidable situation and one that is traumatic and can have long lasting impact on the child and the family. DKA can lead to coma and brain damage. GPs will see more children displaying the signs and symptoms of Type 1 diabetes than they will meningitis and yet awareness of Type 1 is lower.
"We very much welcome this new collective approach between healthcare professionals, Scottish Government and Diabetes Scotland to address this lack of awareness and support clinicians and families to ensure a child’s first experience of having Type 1 is well managed. It is in everyone’s interests that children have the best start in life and are supported to manage what is a complex and challenging condition."