March 4, 2011 7:21 pm

Cases of type 1 diabetes in youth on the rise

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CALGARY – A troubling trend in youth have Canadian doctors puzzled.

Children are being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at twice the rate that they were just 20 years ago – but the issue has little to do with the obesity epidemic.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a child’s body cannot produce insulin. Genetics are a factor but doctors do not know why the number of cases continue to rise.

Ethan Sigurdson has been dealing with the condition since his first birthday. At seven, he knows that when he eats foods that turn to sugar, his body will not produce the insulin necessary to get that sugar into the muscles where it belongs, instead getting trapped in the blood where his kidneys are forced to try and flush it out.

To cope, he needs to drink a lot of water and frequently takes trips to the bathroom.

Dr. Danielle Pacaud helps families manage this chronic disease at the Diabetes Education Clinic at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

Year over year, the number of cases have increased and the program now treats 800 patients, reaching its capacity.

“This has been seen worldwide,” says Dr. Pacaud. “Here in Calgary weknow that our rate has doubled over the past 20 years.”

Once triggered, type 1 diabetes destroys the body’s own ability to produce insulin, setting up kids like Ethan for a lifetime of painful needles.

Doctors are unsure what is causing that trigger – but they do know that more kids are developing the disease and programs have not expanded in order to cope.

Clinics like the one at the ACH have been forced to improvise.

“We’ve shortened our duration of visits to maintain the frequency of visits,” says Dr. Pacaud.

However, parents with children coping with type 1 diabetes are concerned it will come at the cost of care.

“The first three years when we went we saw all three, dietician, nurse and the doctor in every single meeting,” says Tracy Sigurdson, Ethan’s mother. “Now they’re just so busy we can actually just see one of them at a time.”

The trade-off, according to Dr. Pacaud, is that no child will have to wait for care even as the number of children in need continues to rise.

Research is underway to try and find out why type 1 diabetes cases are rising.

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