Numerous studies have highlighted the difficulties experienced in identifying the symptoms of type 1 diabetes.
Faced with this, information campaigns targeting the general public and the medical community are being carried out worldwide to raise awareness of the first signs of type 1 diabetes onset during both childhood and adulthood.
Symptoms in children
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children are quite varied.
The most common of these are:
- they urinate frequently and in large quantities (polyuria);
- they often get up at night to urinate (nocturia);
- they are dehydrated but always thirsty (polydipsia);
- they lose weight and feel overwhelming tiredness.
Other signs that are also likely to appear and should immediately sound the alarm are:
- changes in behaviour/mood;
- changes in appetite;
- abdominal pain;
- bad breath;
- rapid breathing;
- changes in the smell of urine;
- intermittent incontinence during sleep.
Parents play a key role in their child's diagnosis. However, associating symptoms with type 1 diabetes in children is sometimes challenging, even for healthcare professionals. The first signs are subtle and may initially suggest other common childhood illnesses. This is why it takes, on average, two weeks between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis.
If treatment is not started quickly, most children develop complications. For young people with type 1 diabetes, the most common, and most dangerous, of these is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
The increasing prevalence of type 1 diabetes during childhood underlines the importance of developing therapeutic strategies to improve detection and interpretation of symptoms in children, and therefore enable better prevention of potential complications.
Symptoms in adults
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes in adults are the same as in children, namely:
- excessive thirst
- frequent urination
- lack of energy
- extreme fatigue
- excessive or extreme hunger
- sudden weight loss.
However, symptoms of type 1 diabetes are generally less virulent in adults.
Long-term complications related to type 1 diabetes can occur, such as memory and attention disorders, particularly in young adults diagnosed in early childhood, who have a significant history of hypoglycaemia or hyperglycaemia.
Type 1 diabetes has traditionally been viewed as a chronic childhood condition. However, discovery of symptoms of type 1 diabetes in early adulthood and its subsequent management is a real challenge that can be emotionally and psychologically overwhelming.
To reduce symptoms and avoid further complications, young adults will need to learn to integrate treatment into their daily lives and maintain healthy lifestyles, whilst at the same time dealing with the self-consciousness of adolescence and the responsibilities that their new adult life brings them.
As a result, the level of psychological distress is often high in young adults with type 1 diabetes. It is normal for them to feel overwhelmed or low, and to experience stress, anxiety, and even depression from time to time.
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- Juliet A Usher-Smith, Matthew J Thompson, Hannah Zhu, Stephen J Sharp, Fiona M Walter. The pathway to diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in children: a questionnaire study. BMJ Open. 2015 Mar 17;5(3):e006470. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006470.
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