The Diabetes Symptom Every Parent Should Know About

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on February 25, 2016Written by Tom Karlya on February 25, 2016
diabetes symptoms

Tom Karlya has been active in diabetes causes since his daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1992. His son was also diagnosed in 2009. He is the vice president of the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation and the author of Diabetes Dad. He wrote this article in collaboration with Susan Weiner, MS, RDN, CDE, CDN. You can follow Tom on Twitter @diabetesdad, and follow Susan @susangweiner.

We see warning signs everywhere. Warnings on cigarette boxes. Warnings that things are closer than they appear to be in the rear view mirror. There are even warnings on toy packaging.

Two of my children have type 1 diabetes. But there was a time when they didn’t. That’s because I had no idea what the warning signs were.

In today’s world, people tend to be more in tune with what can potentially happen to their children. Stigma has been replaced with action. From bullying to peanut allergies, moms and dads today have the trained eyes that I never had, just a short time ago.

Chances are, if someone you know is complaining of dizziness, frequent urination, and sudden drastic weight loss, most medical professionals will check further to rule out type 1 diabetes, and in some cases even type 2 diabetes. But not all diabetes symptoms are treated equally.

Nausea and Vomiting Might Not Mean the Flu

When we’re feeling extremely nauseous or are vomiting, our usual expectation is that we have the flu. And in healthcare, with these surface symptoms, the inclination is usually to treat the symptom and not to explore things further.

But nausea is also a symptom of diabetes, and ignoring it can cost people their lives. That’s why the National Association of School Nurses recently took the step of sending children who have flu-like symptoms home with a letter for their parents, outlining the symptoms of diabetes.

If a person who has diabetes is experiencing nausea and vomiting, they have entered a very serious stage of diabetes, called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Their production of insulin is diminishing, and glucose levels are rising to dangerous levels because there is not enough insulin present to control it, causing the body to produce high levels of blood acids called ketones.

If Doctors Aren’t Aware, You Should Be

I recently conducted a town hall survey — I call it a “town hall” because I’m just a dad, not a statistician or researcher. The people who responded were mostly parents. The criteria: Their children had to have had DKA when they were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, they had to have been diagnosed within the last 10 years, and they had to be in the United States.

I had hoped for 100 people to respond, and was flabbergasted when 570 people responded.

Over half of those responding said that, during consultations, the parents and doctor came to the agreement that they were dealing with what was probably a flu/virus battle, and they were sent home with instructions to treat that alone.

Diabetes was not even considered. Sadly, all children ended up in the hospital, and nine children experienced brain damage, and even death.

Know the Signs

Reading this, don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “not me.” Don’t place your head in the sand and let the ostrich phenomenon into your life. Years ago, if you had told me that two of my three children would be diagnosed with diabetes, I would have told you that you were insane. Yet here I am today.

Some of the common signs of diabetes include:

  • hunger
  • fatigue
  • frequent urination
  • excessive thirst
  • dry mouth
  • itchy skin
  • blurred vision
  • unplanned weight loss

If not diagnosed or treated, the condition can progress to DKA. Symptoms of DKA include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • sweet or fruity breath
  • dry or flushed skin
  • difficulty breathing
  • having a decreased attention span or confusion

Sometimes, you have to be an advocate for your child. You have to know the right questions to ask, and when to push for more definitive answers. Be aware. The life of your child may depend on it.

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