Warning sign of Type 1 Diabetes

Warning signs of Type 1 Diabetes? Where’s all the funny stuff I claim I write? I know! I know! Humor me and read this anyway. I promise, I will make up for the last few posts in the near future with funnier stuff. Now, back to the topic at hand . . .

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I’m donating all proceeds from my book, SHOW UP DEAD, to the JDRF to help fund a cure for type 1 diabetes. As readers of this blog knows, my daughter was struck by the disease and now lives in a perpetual state of managing it, ever hopeful for a cure.

What I’ve recently realized, though, is that we’re not following through on one of the first promises we made when she was first diagnosed. While my husband and I stood vigil in her hospital room, we kept wondering why no one had ever mentioned the warning signs to us. There are countless other diseases and disorders with their associated symptoms that  we had heard so much about we could have written a textbook on how to identify and diagnose your child with them. However, no one had ever said to us something like: “So you think your kid’s on the skinny side because of a growth spurt? Maybe you should get some blood work done just to be sure.”

At that time, we had even considered setting up a foundation to alert and educate parents. Alas, my husband isn’t Bill Gates, so we have yet to write that check and hire publicists. In the interim, I’m going on a rampage . . .

The thing is, I think the common lists of symptoms you’ll find on the web and elsewhere, are a bit misleading. Here is what WebMD says the symptoms are:

  • Excessive thirst and appetite
  • Increased urination (sometimes as often as every hour)
  • Unusual weight loss or gain
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, perhaps vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • In women, frequent vaginal infections
  • In men and women, yeast infections
  • Dry mouth
  • Slow-healing sores or cuts
  • Itching skin, especially in the groin or vaginal area

All those are indeed correct, but reading over them doesn’t tell you what it actually looks like in your kid (or in a fellow adult because about half of the people diagnosed with type 1 are over 18, hence they’ve dropped that “juvenile diabetes” name).

This is what we saw:

Excessive thirst — our daughter collapsed during a week of record-breaking hot temperatures, literally. I think it hit 104 one day that week. We were all drinking water, excessively. What I noticed (in hindsight) was that she drank more water than other liquids, which at the time I thought showed good judgment on her part: she was out-growing flavored beverages in favor of plain water. (For the record, she doesn’t like plain water much anymore).

Increased urination — well of course! She’s drinking a lot of water because it’s so freaking hot.

Unusual weight loss or gain — our daughter developed type 1 in July. Between May and June before that, she grew just over 3 inches. We thought the thinness was due to not gaining weight while she grew. What we failed to make a connection to was the fact that her hair was growing thicker and thicker during the same time frame. Apparently, as her body was slowly preparing to shut down, one of the processes it quit doing was releasing old hair. So she was getting thinner while her hair was getting thicker; that doesn’t happen in growth spurts.

Fatigue — she really didn’t appear tired or sleepy, which is how I interpret “fatigue.” At least not until the day before she collapsed. And on that day, she said she felt like she was getting a cold and just wanted to rest. However, for a couple of months prior to that day, there were several instances where she’d call for me to pick her up at a party early because she was “tired,” in the middle of a shopping trip she’d say she wanted to go home because she was “tired,” and we noticed she was prone to watching TV and playing video games more than she used to when friends were over, which in the past meant non-stop fashion shows with several changes of clothing. Those bouts of tiredness, it is now surmised, were times when her pancreas was probably only working part time as it was getting closer and closer to going kaput.

Nausea — she never had that BUT she did complain of acid re-flux for a couple of months prior to that fateful day. Only later, after she was diagnosed and learning to read better what her body was telling her, was she able to explain how her stomach felt when her blood sugar was high. She still never says, “nauseous” but that it her stomach is “upset” or just doesn’t “feel right.”

Blurred vision — she never had that.

Yeast infections — She’s never had a vaginal yeast infection, however, for a couple of years prior to becoming diagnosed with type 1, she had been diagnosed with several yeast infections on the skin of her face and she was prone to folliculitis (infections in hair follicles), which is actually common among people with diabetes.

Dry mouth — she never really complained about dry mouth, but she had frequent mouth ulcers, which is another common complaint among diabetics.

Slow-healing cuts and scrapes — yes, she did have that, but they were never anything that took an alarmingly long time to heal. Just, in general comparison with her brother, it “seemed like” it took longer for her to heal from stuff. So I think the thing to keep in mind is that slow-healing might just mean a couple of days longer than average.

Itching skin — again, she never had any problems in the groin area as suggested above, but, the pits of her elbows, the undersides of her arms, and a few other places seemed to be quite itchy. The winter before her diagnosis, she had fairly severe eczema and her skin was dryer and itchier than normal, too.

So parents, my warning is this: realize that lists of symptoms are generalized and may manifest in a form that is not as exact as the descriptions. But, I think the most important lesson I learned is that, my kid seemed a little “off” for several months before she was diagnosed. And when I look back to those days that she seemed “off” and compare them with the symptoms, I see the symptoms were slightly more evident than on days when she was “on.”

I wish I had known about the symptoms when I discovered the “off” days. By the time we realized something was definitely wrong, she had collapsed and the local hospital told us they were “not equipped” to handle her. You never want to hear those words come from a doctor. She had to be air-lifted to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia where she remained unconscious in the ICU for several days. No parent should ever go through that.

No one knows your kid better than you. If you should ever suspect that something might not be right and maybe your kid seems to have a few of the symptoms above, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. A simple blood test can give you peace of mind with negative results. And should you get positive results, then be grateful you caught it in the earlier stages. The earlier the better.

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