For many patients with type 1 diabetes, testing doesn’t begin until their symptoms land them in the emergency room. But researchers at the University of Virginia are trying to see if a genetic test can determine if someone is more likely to develop the disease.
NPR reports around 2,000 children have participated in the study so far, and about 60 of those children carry a higher genetic risk.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in children and teens, although adults can be diagnosed too. It could be months or years before symptoms become apparent.
Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, a board-certified physician in family and emergency medicine, told CBS News the the study is testing a simple cheek swab that could tell patients if they’re at a higher risk — although that doesn’t mean they already have type 1 diabetes.
“The goal and purpose of this test is to give us an idea of whether parents should watch and monitor their children versus just waiting for something serious to happen,” she said.
Symptoms of diabetes can include fatigue, dizziness, weight loss, or an increased thirst or urination. In some cases, Nesheiwat said symptoms can become so severe that a patient collapses or suffers from a seizure.
“What happens is the blood sugar goes so high, and the PH of the blood, it becomes acidic and it can develop what’s called DKA, diabetic ketoacidosis, and that’s what can be life threatening,” Nesheiwat said.
She also said patients are at a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes if a parent has it. If you suspect symptoms, a blood test can confirm it.
People with type 1 diabetes typically need to get daily insulin shots, or wear an insulin pump, to manage their blood sugar levels.