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Children with diabetes getting 'serious complications'

One in five children with diabetes develop serious complications before they are diagnosed, leading healthcare professionals to call for better awareness. 

The children develop Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) - a lack of insulin in the body - which can cause mental confusion, rapid heartbeat and breathing, sickness and unconsciousness. The complication can even be life threatening if left undiagnosed. 

Rates of DKA in those already diagnosed are highest in females aged between 10-19, according to the National Paediatric Diabetes Audit (NPDA), published today by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). 

The audit also found that:

 - Approximately half of all hospital admissions in children with diabetes are related to acute complications including DKA and hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).

 - The number of admissions for DKA remain high but have improved since 2010-11.

 - Females tend to have higher rates of DKA admissions than males: (11.6% and 8.9% of females with diabetes in England and Wales respectively compared to 7.7% and 5.0% for males).

 - Nearly one in 10 admissions to hospital of children and young people with diabetes is as a result of a hypoglycaemic episode. 

Dr Justin Warner, RCPCH's clinical lead for the NPDA and a consultant in Paediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes, said: "Managing diabetes in childhood is a complex problem requiring close collaboration and partnership between the child, family and healthcare teams. An admission to hospital for an acute complication, such as DKA, in a child with established diabetes, can be deemed as a failure of that partnership.

"Understanding the mechanisms which may lead up to an acute admission in a child with diabetes is often difficult, particularly in teenagers who are being encouraged to take on responsibility for their own care.

"The public and healthcare professionals who come into contact with children need to be more aware of the symptoms of diabetes, allowing earlier diagnosis and speedy treatment so as to avoid complications of DKA at diagnosis."

The NPDA, which was commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) as part of the National Clinical Patient Outcomes Programme (NCAPOP), identified 6,210 hospital admissions out of 25,199 children and young people under the age of 25 with diabetes for 2011-12 who are cared for in 177 paediatric centres across England and Wales.

Bridget Turner, director of Policy and Care Improvement at charity Diabetes UK, said it is important that healthcare professionals are calling for better diabetes awareness. 

She said: "By making parents aware of the symptoms of type 1 diabetes, we can help make sure children have the best possible chance of being diagnosed quickly and avoiding complications.

"Because children with type 1 diabetes might have just one or two of the symptoms, it is important that parents know them all and also understand that if their child has any of them then they should take them straight to the GP."