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Expert: Diabetes, And How To Recognise The Signs

Expert: Diabetes, And How To Recognise The Signs

There's an estimated 225,840 people living with Diabetes in Ireland; and the prevalence of Type 1 Diabetes is on the rise. Typically diagnosed in childhood, people with Type 1 Diabetes account for approximately 14,000 – 16,000 of the total diabetes population in Ireland. It's estimated that there are 2,750 people under 16 years-of-age living with Type 1 diabetes, and up to 5 Irish children and teenagers are diagnosed each week.

But what exactly is Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes? What are the signs to look out for, and how can symptoms be managed? Vicky Doyle, Health Promotion Executive for Diabetes Ireland, is here to give you all the answers.

What is Diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is a lifelong condition caused by a lack, or insufficiency of Insulin: A hormone of vital importance, that's made by your pancreas. It acts like a key to open doors into your cells, letting sugar (glucose) in. But in Diabetes, the pancreas makes too little insulin to enable all the sugar in your blood to get into your muscle and other cells to produce energy. If sugar can’t get into the cells to be used, it builds up in the bloodstream: So, Diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar (glucose) levels.

Before you got Diabetes

Before you got Diabetes, your body automatically kept your blood sugar exactly at the right level. Here’s how that worked: After a meal containing carbohydrates, sugar is absorbed into the blood stream very quickly. The amount of sugar in your blood must not get too high or too low. Two hormones – Insulin and Glucagon – were produced in the pancreas, to ensure that the blood sugar was always well controlled, no matter how much you had to eat, and how much you exercised.

Types of Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune condition. The condition tends to occur in childhood or early adult life, and requires daily insulin therapy. It's caused by the body’s own immune system destroying the insulin-making cells (beta-cells) of the pancreas.

Type 2 Diabetes usually develops slowly in adulthood. It is progressive and can sometimes be treated with diet and exercise, but more often Type 2 Diabetes may require anti-diabetic medicine and/or insulin injections.

Differences between Type 1 Diabetes & Type 2 Diabetes

Age of Onset

Type 1: Typically early childhood or adolescence, but can occur at any age.

Type 2: Typically adulthood, but can occur at any age.

Is it Preventable?

Type 1: NO.

Type 2: Up to 40% of diagnoses may be prevented with healthy diet and weight management; and a further 40% may delay the onset of the condition with alterations to dietary intake and healthy activities to curb weight gain.

Nature of the Illness

Type 1: Auto-immune condition that causes your cells to kill off your insulin producing beta cells, as a result your body no longer makes insulin.

Type 2: Your body makes insulin but it isn’t used properly by the body or there is not enough insulin to meet your body’s demands resulting in an insulin inefficiency.

Speed of Onset

Type 1: Quick onset, generally within a few weeks or months.

Type 2: Slow onset. On average, 12 years pass between onset & diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes.

Risk Factors

Type 1: Having another auto-immune condition, or having a parent or sibling with Type 1 Diabetes; combined with environmental factors and a common infection which may trigger onset.

Type 2: If you're over 40 years of age, have family with Diabetes, had Diabetes during a pregnancy, are overweight for your height, if you don't do enough regular exercise, and if you have high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure.

Treatment

Type 1: Intense daily self-management of insulin to balance food intake or exercise; and taking multiple injections of insulin or infusion through an insulin pump.

Type 2: Daily self-management of food intake, exercise and medication.Over time, roughly 40% may also need to use insulin injections.

Signs and Symptoms

The four main symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes are easy to remember:

  • Thirst: Excess drinking, unable to quench thirst.

  • Toilet: Frequent urination, particularly at night.

  • Tiredness: Lack of energy, sleeping more than usual.

  • Weight loss: Rapid weight loss over a short period.

​If these symptoms present themselves, immediate attention is needed.

Less common symptoms:

  • Lack of concentration
  • ​Vomiting and abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • ​Bedwetting
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent infections
  • ​Itchy skin infections

In children under the age of two, symptoms may not be immediately obvious. If your child is unwell without a definite cause, ask your GP to check for Type 1 Diabetes.

Don’t worry, diagnosis is very straight forward

A simple finger prick test by a GP can lead to vital early diagnosis and avoid the risk of developing DKA (Diabetic KetoAcidosis). DKA is a potentially life threatening condition that requires urgent medical attention. In 2014, 1 in 6 children diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes were admitted to hospital with DKA, as a result of late diagnosis.

For much more information and advice, go to diabetes.ie, which even has a brilliant ‘Managing Your Childs Diabetes’ section for helping them to understand their condition, and learn to self-manage.

This article is part of a new series looking at different conditions which affect children and families; getting expert advice on how to spot the signs, and manage symptoms. There'll be plenty more in the coming weeks in our child health section; but for now check out Signs and Symptoms of Dyspraxia.


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eumom team 

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