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Type 1 Diabetes Information for Families

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What is Type 1 Diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes (T1D), the immune system destroys cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Insulin helps us use the energy from the foods we eat. A person who has T1D needs lifelong daily insulin injections to stay healthy.

How is T1D diagnosed?

In today’s globalized world, chances are you are interacting with people from more than just one country. This is where our multilingual functionality comes T1D is typically diagnosed when a child develops high blood sugars (dysglycemia) as a result of their pancreas no longer making enough insulin.  Before this happens some autoantibodies can be detected in a majority of children   These autoantibodies (GAD, IAA, IA-2, and Znt8) can be tested in blood. Having one or more of these autoantibodies present can indicate a higher risk of developing T1D into play. Take advantage of this unique capability to expand your reach.

What are the symptoms of T1D?

The signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes in young children usually develop quickly, and may include:

  • Increased thirst

  • Frequent urination, possibly bed-wetting in a toilet-trained child

  • Extreme hunger

  • Unintentional weight loss

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability or behavior changes

  • Fruity-smelling breath

  • Yeast infection that may present as a diaper rash


Symptoms of increased thirst, increased urination and lack of weight gain or weight loss can be hard to recognize. Because these symptoms can be subtle, early T1D can look like a growth spurt or even a change in thirst associated with a change in routine or the weather. Sometimes, parents simply don’t realize that their child is urinating more while at school or during the night.

If you have any reason to believe that you are seeing signs of T1D in your infant or toddler, it is important to see a doctor immediately. Rather than second-guessing your worries, remind yourself that it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your child’s health.

What is known about the risk of getting T1D?

Most children (90%) who develop T1D DO NOT have a family member with T1D. However, having one or more first-degree relatives (mother, father, or full sibling) with T1D increases the risk that an individual will develop T1D.  This is because there are genes that can increase the risk of T1D.  These genes can be passed down from the mother or father. While several genes have been found to increase the risk of T1D, there are also triggers in the environment that we know must play a role in the development of T1D.  We know this because when a child has a genetic risk for T1D, the probability that they will develop the disease is about half as much if the mother has T1D compared to either the father or full sibling. Scientists think that there must be some environmental factors either during pregnancy or in early life that can influence whether a child with a first-degree relative develops T1D.

Why should we try to find out early if our child may be at risk for T1D?

Although rates vary across the United States, many children diagnosed with T1D are sick enough to have diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and require treatment in the intensive care unit at onset. DKA happens when the body doesn’t make enough insulin to allow sugar into cells for energy. The body starts breaking down fat for energy, and when fat is broken down, ketones are made. Ketones can build up to dangerous levels that can lead to a child being very sick.  In Colorado, nearly 60% of children diagnosed with T1D have DKA at the time of diagnosis.

Children detected by screening for T1D-associated autoantibodies rarely progress to DKA. Prior studies at the Barbara Davis Center, including the TEDDY and DAISY studies, have shown that >90% of children who know they have the T1D-associated autoantibodies and are connected with a healthcare team avoid DKA at the onset of diabetes.

If you’d like more information about the study, please contact one of the sites.

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