Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes, can have many symptoms: frequent urination, extreme thirst, fatigue, calf cramps, itching, weight loss and a decline in school performance.
“If two or more of these symptoms are present simultaneously, parents should immediately take their child to a doctor,” warned Ulrich Fegeler, a Berlin paediatrician and spokesman for Germany’s Professional Association of Children’s and Young People’s Physicians.
Early treatment, he said, could prevent long-term damage as well as potentially fatal diabetic ketoacidosis, a build-up in the blood of acids called ketones.
In type 1 diabetes, as Fegeler explained, a malfunction of the body’s immune system leads to inflammation of the pancreas and irreparable destruction of the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar (glucose) and other carbohydrates into energy.
It is not fully clear what causes the metabolic disorder, he said, nor why type 1 diabetes is increasing dramatically in Europe.
“What is known, however, is that children who have a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes are at greater risk of developing the condition themselves,” he noted. To help diagnose the disease, a urine sample can be tested for ketones and glucose, or blood sugar can be measured in a drop of blood obtained by pricking a finger.
There is also what is known as the HbA1c test, which measures glycosulated haemoglobin in the blood and thus the average blood- sugar level for the past two to three months, Fegeler said. And the oral glucose tolerance test measures the body’s ability to metabolize glucose.