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Type 1 Diabetes Center

Signs and Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

by
author image H. Peter Chase, M.D.
Dr. Chase was appointed the first Director of the University of Colorado Pediatric Diabetes Clinic in 1976. He has been the Executive, Clinical and Pediatric Clinic Director of the Barbara Davis Center. His work has resulted in over 300 peer-reviewed publications, 76 book chapters and five diabetes educational books about type 1 diabetes.
Signs and Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes
Signs and Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes Photo Credit TaPhotograph/Moment/Getty Images

Overview

When people have Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin. Because of a lack of insulin, the sugar in the blood can’t pass into the body’s cells to be burned for energy. Instead, blood sugar rises to a high level and sugar overflows through the kidneys into the urine. When sugar enters the urine, water is pulled from all over the body to go out with the sugar. The results are the classic early symptoms of diabetes. You should have your child checked for diabetes if they display the following signs and symptoms:

Frequent Passing of Urine

This happens because blood sugar levels are high, and as the sugar passes through the kidneys, water is needed to carry the sugar into the urine. This leads to dehydration as water is pulled from all over the body and urinated out. Diabetes is the only condition in which a person is dehydrated and frequent urination is still present.

Many families think their child has a urinary tract infection because of the frequent urination. For smaller children who have been toilet trained, they may regress to bed-wetting.

Dehydration and Excessive Thirst

Signs and symptoms of dehydration include dry or sticky mouth, fatigue, dry skin, headache, dizziness or lightheadedness and few or no tears when crying. Your child may ask to drink an excessive amount of liquids to make up for the water lost from the frequent passing of urine.

Fluctuations in Weight

Weight loss happens when the body can’t get sugar into the cells. The body burns its own fat and protein for energy, resulting in weight loss. Dehydration is another contributing factor to weight loss. Alternatively, some people experience increased hunger. This happens because the body can’t use the food it takes in and is hungry for the energy it isn’t getting.

Decreased Appetite

Unfortunately, about one-third of children who are diagnosed with diabetes also have diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). These ketones can cause an upset stomach, therefore decreasing the patient’s appetite. These children may have vomiting and a sweet odor to their breath. They are often mistaken for having the flu. They sometimes have several visits to the ER prior to a diagnosis of diabetes Type 1 is made.

A simple dipstick test for sugar in the urine or a finger-stick blood sugar level test would make the diagnosis quickly. It is not unreasonable to ask your health care provider to do one of these tests if your child is displaying these signs and symptoms. Doing a simple test could result in early detection and saving a life.

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