Type 1 diabetes diagnoses spike in winter, doctor says
Posted March 8
Winter is a busy time of year for doctors' offices and emergency rooms when respiratory illnesses plus snow and ice injuries are common.
The cold months are often a peak time for Type 1 diabetes, too.
It was three winters ago that life for the Keown family changed dramatically. Emma Keown, who is now 8 years old, learned she had Type 1 diabetes.
A few months earlier, Emma Keown had what her parents thought was a 24-hour bug.
"She had a stomach ache. There was a little bit of nausea, a fever for a few hours," said Michelle Keown, Emma's mother.
After school, she was constantly thirsty and was taking more trips to the bathroom. Emma Keown said sometimes she would come home from school and fall asleep.
The Keowns took her to WakeMed where the diagnosis was made.
"In the E.R. alone, they said it was the strangest thing—they said they had 12 other cases that week," Michelle Keown said.
Dr. Hillary Lockemer, a WakeMed pediatric endocrinologist, said the spike in diabetes diagnoses is not unusual, though.
"We definitely see a peak between January and March," Lockemer said.
Lockemer said studies have shown that Type 1 diabetes tends to be diagnosed more frequently in winter months. The reasons why aren't clear, but she said a winter virus may help expose the underlying problem.
"We know that your insulin needs are higher when you're sick, and just getting sick can kind of push people over the edge a little bit sooner than they would have," Lockemer said.
The diagnosis means at least a day in the hospital, partly, to teach the family about daily blood sugar control, including insulin injections.
"I remembered I didn't like the first needle at all," Emma Keown said.
It's not all pricks and needles, though. Emma's already benefitting from new technology, such as a continuous glucose monitor that wirelessly sends information to a smart phone.
"She has her CGM on right now and you can't—you can hardly even tell," Michelle Keown said.
Soon, Emma will get an insulin pump, which will give her total control of her levels, and there's an artificial pancreas system on the horizon.
Among children with diabetes, Type 1, or insulin dependent diabetes, is at least three times more common than Type 2 diabetes, which is more related to unhealthy lifestyles.