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What You Should Know About Type 1 Diabetes

An important statistic to lodge into your brain: More than 200,000 people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes each year. Accounting for about 10% of diabetes cases globally, Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, inhibiting the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar—people with Type 1 diabetes are insulin-dependent for life. Type 1 is not preventable, and since, unlike Type 2 diabetes, it’s not related to lifestyle, the disease disproportionately affects children.

The inspiring folks at Beyond Type 1 (not surprisingly, two of the founders are mothers of Type 1 kids) are launching an amazing campaign this fall to increase awareness and, perhaps most importantly, testing, around Type 1. Considering that Type 1 is entirely treatable, it’s somewhat surprising that the disease still claims fatalities annually. The reason: 39% of Type 1 diagnoses come too late, with disastrous consequences. When diabetes goes untreated, the body, unable to produce insulin, is forced to burn fat for energy, which causes a buildup of acids called ketones in the bloodstream. The patient then enters a state called Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which develops rapidly and causes symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and confusion. In the worst cases, DKA can lead to diabetic comas and brain damage; it’s fatal if left untreated.

The high level of missed diagnoses when it comes to Type 1 Diabetes is, in large part, due to the generality of the symptoms, which are often misdiagnosed as Strep throat or the flu. Too many children experiencing symptoms like fever, nausea, weakness, weight loss, extreme thirst, and bed-wetting are sent home with an antibiotic for Strep, only to enter a dangerous DKA state—often requiring hospitalization—days later. The good news is that this problem is easily solved, as a simple blood or urine test can identify abnormal levels of sugar, catching cases of Type 1 in plenty of time to treat them. In the approaching flu seasons, Beyond Type 1 recommends that every parent educate themselves on the symptoms of Type 1. Ask your doctor for a quick, painless test if you think your child may be at risk. For more information, check out the wealth of resources at Beyond Type 1.

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