Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Because insulin is the "key" which enables cells of the body to utilize glucose for fuel, the decrease in insulin production associated with Type 1 Diabetes results in:
1) an increased level of glucose in the bloodstream and
2) the cells of the body being deprived of fuel.
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can all be traced back to decreased insulin production, increased levels of glucose in the blood, and the body's attempt to "flush" excess glucose out of the bloodstream. The symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually develop over a few days or weeks. These symptoms are often overlooked, at first, or mistaken (even by medical professionals) for other illnesses, like the flu. The warning signs or symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:
Extreme Thirst and Frequent Urination: When excess glucose accumulates in the blood, fluid is pulled from all of the tissues into the bloodstream; this is the body's attempt to flush the excess glucose out of the bloodstream. This process causes the person to become extremely thirsty, to urinate more frequently, and to become dehydrated. Frequent urination may be more noticeable at night (bedwetting).
Extreme Hunger: Type 1 diabetes involves a decreased production of insulin by the pancreas. Insulin is the "key" which enables the cells of the body to utilize glucose for energy. Without adequate insulin to move glucose into the various cells, the muscles and organs become energy-depleted; every cell of the body is literally starving, which causes intense hunger.
Rapid, Unintentional Weight Loss: Your child may lose weight rapidly, even though they are eating more to satisfy their extreme hunger. Weight loss is often the first symptom to be noticed by others. Because the body isn't producing enough insulin, the cells are unable to utilize the glucose in the blood for energy. So, the body starts burning fat and muscle, instead, for energy, which leads to rapid weight loss.
Drowsiness/Feeling Very Tired or Weak/Lethargic: If the cells in your child's entire body are being deprived of glucose (energy), s/he will feel unusually tired and lethargic. They may be sleeping or napping much more than normal.
Blurred Vision: If your child's blood sugar is too high, water may be pulled from the lenses of the eyes, causing blurry vision.
Fruity Odor on the Breath: When the body begins to burn fat and muscle for energy, ketones are produced; ketones cause the breath to have a "fruity" odor.
Shallow, Rapid Breathing: If your child has shallow, rapid breathing, seek medical attention immediately! This particular symptom could indicate an imminent, sometimes fatal, medical crisis called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
If you see these symptoms of high blood sugar, take your child to the doctor and request a finger stick to check blood glucose. Testing for Type 1 diabetes is inexpensive, virtually pain-free, and takes only a few seconds; it's just a simple finger stick...one drop of blood. If the doctor does not check your child's blood glucose, you can borrow a blood glucose meter from a friend or pick one up at a local store for less than $20 and do the finger stick blood test on your own.