The first signs seem innocuous: Your child is thirstier than normal and urinates often — even at night. What’s more, he or she is increasingly fatigued and weak, and has lost weight.

These are all symptoms of type 1 diabetes.

A child drinking more liquids than usual, particularly in summer, doesn’t arouse parents’ suspicions, notes Dr Martin Holder, director of the diabetes education and therapy centre for children and adolescents at Stuttgart Hospital in Germany. “They’re often pleased,” he says.

Typically appearing in childhood, type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone that allows glucose (sugar) to enter cells to produce energy.

Its symptoms are often recognised late, leading to “metabolic derailment,” according to Dr Andreas Neu, vice president of the German Diabetes Association.

Sugar accumulates in the blood. To acquire energy, the cells utilise fatty acids, producing waste products that overacidify the blood. Over time, “the function of cells and organs becomes crippled,” Neu says.

Despite intensive research, the exact cause of the disease remains unknown.

Blood and urine tests are usually quick to detect type 1 diabetes, a diagnosis that’s a heavy blow to the family. “Their lives change abruptly,” remarks Holder.

In the experience of Dr Bernhard Kulzer, a diabetes psychologist, the child generally handles the situation better than the parents do.

After the diagnosis, it’s important that the child be promptly admitted to a paediatric clinic to establish an insulin regimen.

The initial focus is on normalising metabolic processes. Then the instruction of parents and child begins, such as how to monitor blood sugar and what dietary rules need be followed. – dpa