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Understanding the Risks of Type 1 Diabetes This Winter

Photo: Courtesy of Joseph Pearson

Did you know that with the colder months approaching there will be more new cases of Type 1 diabetes diagnosed than during warmer seasons?

According to the DIAMOND Project, which is the largest study on seasonality patterns ever conducted, there is a “…demonstrated seasonality in the onset of Type 1 diabetes, with peaks in October to January […] with opposite patterns in countries of the southern hemisphere.” While the reasons for this are still unknown, acute diseases like the autoimmune disease Type 1 diabetes are more common in autumn and winter months.

What to know

It’s critical to note that the symptoms of onset of Type 1 diabetes can actually look like the flu, hiding the real cause of illness and putting the person at risk for developing DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis). If Type 1 diabetes goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and the person does not get the insulin they need, this can lead to coma or death.

Stanford endocrinologist Marina Basina says, “Symptoms frequently mimic stomach flu or occur with or after the common cold or flu. Considering that most of the patients diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes have no family history of Type 1 diabetes, this diagnosis is not the first that comes to mind in both patients and physicians.”

Recognizing the symptoms

Knowing the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes — especially during the winter months and flu season — could save lives.

Early symptoms of DKA (or Type 1 diabetes) include:

  • Unquenchable thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • In babies and toddlers, heavy diapers
  • In children with no previous concerns, sudden bedwetting
  • Weight loss (despite an increased appetite)
  • Decreased energy level
  • Blurry vision

If left untreated, these symptoms progress to the following:

  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid, heavy breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Approximately 40,000 people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the United States every year, but people are still dying from misdiagnosis.

Basina suggests we can resolve this by “… raising awareness of the early signs and symptoms of diabetes and having a low threshold for checking blood sugar levels and ketones if an individual presents with weight loss, frequent thirst and urination.”

Testing for Type 1 diabetes is determined by a finger prick blood test or a ketone urine test.

“If people had easier access to testing equipment, perhaps we could do better at making an early diagnosis flu season or not,” suggests Basina.

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