Thousands of children with Type I diabetes are not being diagnosed until they have suffered from a life-threatening ‘warning sign’, doctors say today .

Stephen Adams

By Stephen Adams,Daily Telegraph Medical Correspondent 6:30AM GMT 18 Feb 2011 

A quarter of the 29,000 children with Type I diabetes in Britain are only diagnosed because they have an attack of Diabetic Ketoacidosis, or DKA, according to Dr Julie Edge, a consultant paediatric diabetologist at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

DKA, which usually only occurs when Type I diabetes is fully established, is an illness caused by dangerously high blood glucose levels. It can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and rapid breathing, and potentially lead to a coma.

Of children diagnosed with Type I diabetes before the age of five, 35 per cent have had DKA, said Dr Edge.

Her report on the problem of late diagnosis will be published in the British Medical Journal tomorrow .

Sarah Johnson, of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a charity, said: “It’s very concerning that children are at risk because Type I diabetes, which is five times more common than meningitis, is not being recognised.

We are encouraging parents and health professionals to look out for the signs of extreme thirst, tiredness, weight loss, frequent urination, including recent-onset bed-wetting and blurred vision in children as an indication of Type I diabetes.”

Dr Tabitha Randell, a consultant paediatric endocrinologist at diabetologist at Nottingham University Hospital, said it was vital that parents acted on those potential signals.

Wetting the bed again or urinating frequently was not always just a sign of stress, she said.

“It’s important to take them along to the doctor and ask them to check their blood sugar level,” she said. “A single finger prick will tell you there and then if they have got diabetes.”

She added that almost no children were born with Type I diabetes, but most cases emerged at around five or six and 10 or 11.

Simon O’Neill, of Diabetes UK, another charity, said: “With around 2,000 children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes every year, it’s worrying that a quarter of children will have only been diagnosed through DKA.”