Researchers at the MUHC want parents to know more about the signs of type 1 diabetes – because early diagnosis could help prevent major health problems for some children.

Doctors are concerned in particular about diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, a life-threatening complication when acid levels are too high in the bloodstream.

“A minority of children, so up to 1%, can get brain swelling and that can lead to death or that can lead to long-term neurological consequences,” said MUHC endocrinologist Meranda Nakhla.

Nakhla and researchers at the RI-MUHC found the number of children in Quebec that have DKA has been on the rise by 2% per year since 2001.

“In 2001 there were 22% presenting in DKA at diagnosis of type 1. And that increased to 30% in 2014,” she said.

These numbers should serve as a wake-up call, said Nakhla, adding that awareness campaigns could help with an earlier diagnosis.

“We know that by sensitizing health care providers, teachers, families, to the symptoms of type 1 diabetes decreases the rates of diabetic ketoacidosis,” she said.

Sarah Smart is urging other parents to know the signs after her two-year-old daughter Elwyn Yates was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and DKA about nine months ago.

“It was just a surprise in some ways because we didn't see it coming at all. And then to be told how ill she was, it was beyond words,” said Smart.

The mother said she missed all the signs in Elwyn, but she had been showing all the usual symptoms, like being thirsty and going to the bathroom often.

“It was July so it was really hot outside and I thought she was just thirsty from the heat,” she said.

What the infant became weak and fell ill, her parents rushed her to the hospital.

Elwyn was treated with insulin and fully recovered.

“If you see a child extra thirsty or peeing all the time or having heavy diapers, like she did,” said Smart, “mention that to your doctor.”