It’s the one time of year when we all overindulge, but for children with type 1 diabetes, Christmas can be fraught with dangers.
Halifax mum-of-five Jodie Ward knows this all too well, as three of her children are “T1 Heroes”.
Ebony, 15, her eldest, who was diagnosed aged 7; Benjamin, 10, who was diagnosed at 14 months and Toby, 7, who was diagnosed aged 3.
Christmas, like every day, will involve watching them around the clock, measuring everything they eat and calculating their insulin, all while trying to make it as fun-filled as possible.
“Christmas is the most magical time of the year and for the Ward family it brings so much joy, but also a lot of added worries,” shares Jodie. “With so many treats around it can be so difficult to calculate and measure exactly what each child is eating.
“Too little insulin and the blood sugars will go extremely high. The kids will then feel thirsty, angry, sick, tired, hyperactive. And too much will result in dangerous hypos, needing urgent treatment of fast-acting glucose.
“We buy food and drinks that are sugar free, low sugar or carb free. And they still get to enjoy the lovely food Christmas brings. All that being said,we as parents just make sure we watch everything they each eat, calculate the insulin as safely as possible and ensure that they enjoy every minute possible.”
Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system starts to destroy the pancreatic cells responsible for making the hormone insulin.
Insulin is very important, as it regulates blood sugar and helps cells to use the glucose from food and drink for energy. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, and can make you dangerously ill.
Around 10% of the 3.5 million people in the UK with diabetes have type 1. It has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle, and no one really knows why it happens. But when it does, it is serious, life-altering and there is no cure.
“Type 1 diabetes is the second most common chronic illness in children, behind asthma,” says Jodie. “There are 29000 plus children in the UK with type 1 diabetes, and cases are increasing worldwide, particularly in young children.
“Knowing the warning signs can save a child’s life. They are: extreme thirst, frequent urination, a fruity breath odor and blurred vision. Generalized symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, stomachache, appetite changes and weight loss can also be indicators.
“Kids are often misdiagnosed with viruses, acid reflux, strep throat, sinus or urinary tract infections. And this can lead to a child dying or coming very close to death.”
Children with type 1 diabetes need 7-8 injections every day, or to wear an insulin pump. All their food is weighed and calculated so they ingest the correct amount of insulin, but even with meticulous calculation, complications can occur.
Too little insulin, and they could become “hyper”, meaning their blood sugar levels go really high and they will become extremely thirsty, lethargic, hyper, have no concentration and be moody or even violent.
Too much insulin and they may become “hypo”. This means their blood sugars have dipped too low, and it is an urgent situation requiring fast action. “The child will sweat, shake, not be able to stand up, not make any sense, act like they are drunk and need fast-acting glucose immediately otherwise they can have a seizure, slip into a coma and die,” says Jodie.
“With the continuing increase of type 1 diabetes in children here in the UK, it’s now more important than ever to spread awareness of this chronic condition. Know the signs: THIRSTY, THIN , TIRED, TOILET.”
WHAT IS TYPE 1 DIABETES?
A serious, life long condition when your body stops making insulin and glucose builds up in your blood. It requires daily insulin and careful monitoring to ensure you don’t get seriously ill. Long term, type 1 diabetes can cause damage to your heart, eyes, feet and kidneys.