Every year, 3,000 children and young people in Germany develop type 1 diabetes – and the trend is rising, as a new report shows. Why is this and what warning signs should parents pay attention to?
During the pandemic, more and more children and adolescents developed type 1 diabetes in Germany. As the new “Diabetes 2023 Health Report” from the German Diabetes Society (DDG) shows, various large studies recorded an increase of between 10 and 32 percent. This means that cases in 2020 and 2021 rose by 15 to 20 percent more than expected.
And experts fear that this trend will continue in the years to come. By 2026, they expect the number of cases of the disease in children under the age of five to have doubled.
But why are the cases increasing – especially in recent years? In the report, the experts discuss possible connections with Corona. On the one hand, there is evidence that an infection with Sars-CoV-2 is associated with the risk of type 1 diabetes. The background is that the ACE2 receptor, which serves as the cell entry point for the coronavirus, is also found in insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Said cells play a significant role in the development of diabetes.
On the other hand, there are indirect factors of the pandemic that could play a role. According to the report, however, the lockdowns per se are not responsible for the increasing cases: analyzes of the nationwide DPV register (diabetes patient progress documentation) for the years 2020/2021 showed that the incidence of type 1 diabetes in children and adolescents is not in times of the lockdown in spring, but only in the summer of 2020 and thus rose about three months after the maximum Covid-19 incidence in 2020.
According to the experts, the reasons are unclear, but they suspect “primarily changed living conditions that can be attributed to the measures to combat the pandemic”, for example
Heredity: What is certain, however, is that a certain risk for the disease is inherited, writes the diabetes information portal:
Nutrition: According to the diabetes information portal, nutrition during infancy can also play a role:
Other factors: There is also evidence that, in addition to Covid-19, other respiratory diseases increase the risk of type 1 diabetes, such as infection with Coxsackie viruses, a common cause of colds. And: “Children who are born by caesarean section also have a slightly higher risk of type 1 diabetes,” according to the portal.
Possible warning signs that parents should look out for in their children are as follows:
If these signals occur in your child, you should have them clarified by a doctor. Because: “With every day that a child has undetected type 1 diabetes, the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) increases,” writes the DDG. This is an overacidification of the body, which can lead to unconsciousness and a life-threatening coma.
Typical additional signs of ketoacidosis in addition to severe thirst, weight loss and constant urination is the smell of acetone in the exhaled air. Hyperacidity can also lead to abdominal pain and vomiting, as well as rapid breathing. This is how the body tries to get rid of the excess acid. If this is the case, this is a medical emergency and you should contact a doctor immediately.