A 24-pack of bottle water, one jug of milk and two packs of juice boxes (with 10 or so in each). That’s what my son drank.

Then it hit me – I’d just bought all of those drinks two days before. Two days! That couldn’t be right. He’s always been a bit of a juice fiend, but never like this.

I’m going to be completely honest here. I’d love to say that my heart sank and with a heavy sense of concern I gently asked him if he felt okay. But, my heart sank and I heard my friend’s voice in my head as she told me (the year before) how her son’s diabetes diagnosis was kicked off by a major water-drinking episode. I knew. Right away I knew, something was wrong. And, I yelled. At him. I told him that drinking so much in such a short time was ridiculous and asked him not so nicely, “What were you thinking?”

I’m not a mean mum. Far from it. But, I was at a loss. My son has always been the picture of health. At age 14 he’s only been on antibiotics two times (and once was because he was bitten deeply by another child) and never missed a day of school for sickness. He’s never had an ear infection, strep throat or any of the other typical ‘childhood illnesses’. Now he was sick – with something much more dangerous than a common cold or tickly throat.

One paediatrician visit, one trip to the emergency department and a five day hospital stay later he had a definitive type 1 diabetes diagnosis. He went from eating whatever he wanted whenever he wanted to a strict dietician-prepared balance of carbs, proteins and fats. He went from being a typical teen to testing his blood sugar at least five times (usually more) and giving himself six injections a day. When he goes out with his friends he has to bring a snack and an emergency injection in case his blood sugar were to dip too low.

I know the brunt of the challenges thatType 1 Diabetes has to offer falls on my son. But, as his mum, I have a constant sense of worry. I worry about his blood sugar dropping too low, I worry about his blood sugar being too high and I worry about what the future holds for him – all of the time. I worry, and I blame myself. I wonder if there were subtle symptoms or signs that I could have picked up on earlier. Shouldn’t I have known, or at least sensed something was wrong? That said, I’m lucky (and so is my son!) to have a friend who educated me on the warning signs of Type 1 Diabetes. If not, I probably wouldn’t have called the doctor as soon as I did.

Whether your child is a toddler or a teen (or older), understanding what Type 1 Diabetes is and what the warning signs of Type 1 Diabetes are is something that every parent should know.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

It’s an auto-immune condition. The body’s immune system sets out to destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. As the pancreas stops making insulin, the body can’t turn glucose (blood sugar) into energy. This leads to high blood sugar levels in the body. Instead of having the energy (from sugar) to use, the body begins to burn fats. Not only is the body deprived of energy, but burning fats results in the release of ketones (acids). A build-up of ketones is toxic and can become life-threatening.

What causes Type 1 Diabetes?

It’s thought to be a combination of genetic factors and some sort of environmental trigger (such as illness, puberty, severe stress). We had no family history of type 1 at all. So, how did my son get it? The genetic factors include a history of any auto-immune disease, not just Type 1 Diabetes.

What doesn’t cause Type 1 Diabetes?

Lifestyle. That’s type 2 you’re thinking of. I stopped counting how many people (after hearing about my son’s diagnosis) said, “But, he’s thin. And eats healthy. And he’s an athlete. He couldn’t have diabetes.” Yes he could. Again, it’s an auto-immune disorder, and is not caused by eating sugary sweets or inactivity.

What are the warning signs of Type 1 Diabetes?

My son’s symptoms were extremely sudden. I mean days here. Based on lab results, he probably had the condition for a few months – with no noticeable symptoms. The main signs are:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive hunger
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Mood swings

Keep in mind, many of these symptoms have multiple causes and mimic other conditions. After his diagnosis I remembered that my son had complained of blurred vision. I chalked that up to too much time staring at screens. With that in mind, if you have any doubt (or that ‘parent sense’) please, please, please call a medical professional. Both you and your child will thank you.

Author

Erica Loop is a mum, parenting writer and educator with an MS in child development. Along with writing for websites such as PBS Parents, care.com, Scary Mommy, mom.me, Modern Mom, education.com and others, she also is the creator of a kids' activities and art blog.

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