Doctors are worried by a record number of WA children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes this year, with about 30 per cent more cases than average.
Princess Margaret Hospital endocrinologist Liz Davis, who is co-director of the Children’s Diabetes Centre based at the Telethon Kids Institute, said more than 150 children had been diagnosed with diabetes this year. The number of cases had been steadily rising but this year’s surge was unexplained.
“In WA we tend to have a five-year cycle, with a neat pattern of some years with fewer cases and some with more, but this peak is way out of proportion,” Professor Davis said.
“For me one of the big concerns about this increased rate is that 25 to 30 per cent of children in WA who present with diabetes are so unwell that they end up in intensive care.”
Professor Davis said the extra cases put added pressure on the diabetes clinic, which managed all WA children with the condition.
It was a significant life event when a child was diagnosed, as they needed to be seen immediately and their family needed support. Professor Davis said type 1 was caused by genetic and environmental factors, but because gene patterns did not change quickly, the increase was probably more related to factors such as viral triggers that set off the autoimmune process.
The clinic was also seeing a rise in type 2 diabetes cases, which tended to be caused by lifestyle factors.
Professor Davis said the first signs of diabetes in children were weight loss, and the need to drink a lot and go to the toilet often, which could be difficult to gauge over summer.
Ten-year-old Ella Fairman was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two months ago while her family was in NSW for a wedding.
Her mother Amy said they were at the house of a friend who had type 1 diabetes, and she mentioned that Ella was always thirsty, not sleeping well and had blurred vision.
They checked Ella’s blood sugars levels, which were dangerously high, and she had to stay in hospital until she was stable enough to fly home to Perth.
“It’s been a big learning curve for us, and they only let us fly home when they were confident we knew what we were doing,” Mrs Fairman said. “But we’re happy with how Ella has handled it so far.”
Originally published by Cathy O’Leary at The West Australian
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