On World Diabetes Day, Packard Children’s Hospital Diabetes Expert Offers Warning Signs, Tips for Parents

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It’s American Diabetes Month and today is World Diabetes Day. An estimated 15,000 children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the United States every year; parents should be aware of the signs of the condition in their children. That’s why we sat down with Jen Block, FNP, CDE—a family nurse practitioner at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford—to learn key tips for parents. Block has type 1 diabetes herself, is mom to two boys, and treats kids and young adults living with diabetes at the hospital’s Pediatric Endocrinology Clinic.

Can you tell us the story of how you found out that you had diabetes?

Jen Block: I was a college student when I started to become unusually hungry and thirsty. I was losing a ton of weight, even though I was eating more than normal. I also was going to the bathroom more frequently, and it was during a cross-country road trip that I ended up in the emergency room due to an unrelated allergic reaction. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes while I was in the hospital.

My own diagnosis of diabetes inspired me to go into nursing; I wanted to dedicate my life to caring for people with diabetes and to working in research aimed at improving diabetes care. I learned pretty quickly from my diabetes care team that it is a disease you can manage and that, with the right tools and knowledge, it should not limit you.

What are the warning signs of diabetes that parents should look out for?

Block: Some of the most common signs of diabetes include fatigue, frequent thirst and urination, blurry vision, fruity or sweet-smelling breath, and sudden or unexplained weight loss.

If diabetes progresses, especially in the case of type 1 diabetes, you can develop other symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or changes in breathing or level of consciousness which can be life-threatening if not recognized and treated immediately. This may also occur in type 2 diabetes. While many of the symptoms for type 2 diabetes are the same as type 1, you may also see darkening of the skin, which usually occurs in skin folds such as around the neck or in the armpit.

Anyone who believes they may have diabetes or who has any of the symptoms of diabetes should seek medical care immediately.

How do you recommend parents talk to a child who has just been diagnosed?

Block: Young children view the disease through the lens of the parents and the healthcare providers they interact with. If they are scared, then the child will be too. Emphasize to children that they can still live the life they want, even if they have diabetes. In fact, to build my patients’ confidence I tell them that in many ways they are stronger and braver because they are taking on the tasks their body did without intervention prior to the diabetes diagnosis.

In addition, it is important to meet other patient families with diabetes so that there is a network of support. Managing diabetes well can be done as long as a family has the tools and the support that they need.

What should parents look for in an endocrinologist?

Block: I would recommend that parents look for a pediatric endocrinologist, as the needs for children with diabetes are different than those of adults. I would suggest finding a center like ours, where there is a team approach to diabetes, including a staff of nutritionists, nurses, and social workers who will help them with various aspects of the disease. Most of all, families need to be with a provider that they can be honest with and that they feel comfortable with.

If possible, receiving care from an organization like Packard Children’s that is committed not only to patient care but also to research has its benefits. At the Stanford University School of Medicine and Packard Children’s, we are engaged in a large number of clinical trials in diabetes that will change the future for those with the condition.

(Discover more about our research here.)