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Symptoms of diabetes are often missed, even by Doctors

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    During Diabetes Week (9-15 June 2013) it is important to emphasise how vital it is for doctors to respond to symptoms of diabetes and make appropriate referrals

    By Simon Elliman

Diabetes UK’s ‘Breakthrough Moment’ posters in doctors’ surgeries are visible signs of the ongoing campaign to increase knowledge and raise funds for diabetes research.  However, even medical professionals can find it hard to recognise the symptoms of diabetes, especially if the patient does not fall into the most common age range for developing the disease and they are not considering the possibility of diabetes.

With proper care and prompt diagnosis diabetes can be effectively controlled and those with diabetes can be informed about their condition and live full and active lives.  The theme for this year’s campaign is to “highlight all the breakthroughs and achievements made through their research projects over the years and to let people know how these projects help improve the lives of people with diabetes”.

As medical negligence lawyers we often see clients who have been diagnosed with diabetes, but after a period of delay and when their symptoms have often been put down to other conditions.  In some circumstances this means the person may have been suffering for many years with sometimes debilitating symptoms or undergoing unnecessary treatment for other conditions, and have put their lives “on hold” because they have not had access to effective treatment.  We therefore fully support ongoing research and campaigns to increase awareness and effective treatment for the condition and to avoid the consequences of a missed diagnosis.

GP NEGLIGENCE

The Clinical Negligence Team acted for a teenage girl who went to her GPs with non-specific symptoms: lethargy, stomach ache, thirst and weight loss. The girl was seen by two different GPs on three surgery visits but unfortunately, despite her symptoms, diabetes was not considered.  They carried out no investigations and she was simply labelled as suffering from an eating disorder.  Had either of the GPs carried out a urine test or finger prick blood sugar test then diabetic ketoacidosis would have been diagnosed and an urgent admission to hospital would have meant her condition would have been stabilised without any serious difficulties. Instead it was not until the child fell into a coma and could not be roused that she was rushed to hospital and the A&E team carried out the necessary tests and immediately recognised what was wrong. Because of the delay in admission the child suffered complications that would not have occurred had her condition been correctly diagnosed by her GPs and treated at that time.

EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT NEGLIGENCE

In another case, an elderly man developed a deep ulcer on his toe.  He attended a local Accident & Emergency unit where a casualty doctor unfortunately failed to properly assess his circulation or exclude diabetes. The doctor did not perform the appropriate blood test or check the pulse in his leg either.  The patient eventually had an operation to remove the toe. Two weeks after this surgery he returned to the hospital, but sadly on the following day he suffered a cardiac arrest and died.  After investigation it was found that there had been no need for a traumatic operation which precipitated the man’s heart attack and death, and this man had been suffering with diabetes which could have been treated without surgery had it been diagnosed promptly.

It is vital that there is ongoing training and awareness of the symptoms of the different types of Diabetes to ensure prompt diagnosis and effective treatment.

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