Nine out of 10 parents do not know the four main symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, according to a new survey commissioned by Diabetes UK.
The IPSOS Mori survey of 1,170 parents found that just nine per cent were able to correctly identify that frequently urinating; excessive thirst; extreme tiredness; and unexplained weight loss are all symptoms of the condition.
According to Diabetes UK, this lack of understanding is one of the reasons that a quarter of children with Type 1 diabetes are only diagnosed once they are already seriously ill with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a life threatening condition which needs immediate specialist treatment in hospital.
To address this lack of awareness, the charity has today launched a campaign to highlight the “4 Ts” of Type 1 diabetes symptoms: Toilet; Thirsty; Tired; and Thinner. The campaign posters use children’s fridge magnets to spell out the 4 Ts, with the aim being to help ensure parents, carers and anyone who works with children knows the symptoms and understands that a child who has any of them urgently needs to visit a doctor immediately and get a test.
The campaign will also raise awareness among healthcare professionals that they need to test for Type 1 diabetes as soon as a child presents with any symptoms. This is because onset can be extremely quick.
Barbara Young, Chief Executive for Diabetes UK, said: “The symptoms of Type 1 diabetes are so obvious and pronounced that there is no reason why every child with the condition cannot be diagnosed straight away.
“But the stark reality is that a quarter of children with Type 1 diabetes become seriously unwell before being diagnosed and we need to bring this appalling situation to an end. I fear that unless there is a big increase in awareness of symptoms, we will continue to see hundreds of children a year become seriously ill completely needlessly.
“We need to get the message across that if you have a child or if you work with children, you need to make it your business to know the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes. We hope the 4 Ts will make them easier to remember and so help ensure children with the condition get diagnosed at the right time.
“As well as making parents and those who look after and work with children aware of the symptoms, we need to increase understanding that a child who has any of the 4 Ts needs to be tested straight away. This is because onset can be so quick that a delay of a matter of hours can be the difference between being diagnosed at the right time and being diagnosed too late.
“This is why we will also be targeting our 4 Ts campaign at generalist staff such as GPs, practice nurses and those working in accident and emergency. While many of these healthcare professionals already do excellent work in correctly identifying the 4 Ts and ensuring children are tested quickly, we hear about some awful cases where parents are told their child has a virus or a urine infection and are told to come back for a test if the symptoms persist. We need to stop this kind of thing happening and the only way to do this is to make sure every healthcare professional understands that a child with any of the 4 Ts needs to be tested for Type 1 diabetes immediately.”
The pop singer Amelia Lily, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was three years old, is backing the 4 Ts campaign. She said: “I feel very strongly that every parent and carer needs to know about Diabetes UK’s 4 Ts campaign. My symptoms included drinking a lot more than normal and going to the toilet a lot. I was very lucky as my nana realised what was wrong with me because my uncle had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 14.
“ It’s so important that anyone who looks after children – not just parents but teachers, carers and other family members – knows how to spot the signs of diabetes. So many children are still getting really poorly before they are diagnosed and I want to help put a stop to that.”
The nine per cent figure is the percentage of parents who can identify all four of the 4Ts of Type 1 diabetes. Awareness of the individual symptoms is:
• Excessive thirst: 58 per cent (Thirsty);
• Tiredness/lack of energy: 57 per cent (Tired);
• Frequently passing urine: 38 per cent (Toilet);
• Weight loss: 28 per cent (Thinner).
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) happens when the body is unable to break down glucose because there isn’t enough insulin. Instead, it breaks down fat as an alternative source of fuel. This causes a build-up of a by-product called ketones. This can lead to coma and even death.
About 500 of the 2,000 children who develop Type 1 diabetes in the UK every year have DKA by the time they are diagnosed.