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September 7, 1999

Behavior

Question from Florida, USA:

I'm worried about my sister. I'm afraid she may be pretending to have diabetes. After our parents divorced last year (I'm 15 and my sister is 10) she has been desperate for attention. Her best friend has diabetes, so she knows a little about the disease. Recently, too, her friend has been in the hospital, and everyone is fawning over her and always asking my sister how she's doing. Well, in the last week or two, my sister has been complaining of being really thirsty, having to go to the bathroom a lot, and being tired. However, I noticed that she "forgets" about her symptoms when Mom or Dad isn't around! Today my mom got concerned enough to take her to the doctor for a fasting blood sugar. Her sugar level was 135. The doctors diagnosed diabetes "in its early stages" but didn't admit her to the hospital because it wasn't high enough. I have a suspicion she snuck some food or something in order to get a high reading! Now she's about to go to all sorts of doctors and talk to educators and stuff and she's eating up the attention! My parents are upset and worried. So, will the doctors be able to find out for sure whether or not she has diabetes through their routine tests? What will happen if she takes insulin she doesn't need? Should I tell my parents about my concerns (I'm afraid they won't believe me). If they do believe me and tell the doctors, what will the doctors do?

Answer:

It sounds like you’re a wonderful and concerned sister. It is true that when parent’s divorce, many children become very needy for attention. Sometimes they will do some pretty unusual and creative things to get that attention. However, it is not “normal” to have a fasting blood sugar of 135. The physicians will be able to determine if she has diabetes by some of their blood tests. They would not give your sister insulin unless she really did need it. You can not “fake” a high blood sugar in a physician’s office if you don’t really have diabetes.

It may be important for your family to seek the advice of a pediatric diabetes team. Fasting blood sugars of 135 can quickly (a day or two) turn into dangerously high numbers. You might be able to help your parents and your sister by recommending that they call your nearest American Diabetes Association chapter and ask for a referral to the closest pediatric diabetes team to your home. Many diabetes teams have a social worker and/or a psychologist that is part of their team. You may wish to speak with that member of the team to let them know you are worried that your sister might “use” diabetes as a way to get more attention from your parents, and that you want her to stay healthy without diabetes becoming a focus of everyone’s attention. The social workers and psychologists that work on diabetes teams have a lot of ideas on how to help with that.

JWB