When diabetes is diagnosed in children, it is usually type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas (an organ located near your stomach) makes little or no insulin. Insulin is important because it allows sugar to leave the blood and enter the body's cells.
The body's main fuel is a form of sugar called glucose, which comes from food (after it's been broken down). Glucose enters the blood and is used by cells for energy. Diabetes develops when your body can't make any or enough insulin, or when it can't properly use the insulin it makes.
When this happens, the sugar that is created as we digest food can't get into the cells for energy storage and remains in the blood. The cells of the body literally "starve" from lack of glucose.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of diabetes are due to the high levels of glucose in the bloodstream, and partially due to the body's attempt to lower the levels.
People with type 1 diabetes may have the following signs and symptoms:
- blurred vision
- decreased mental sharpness
- extreme thirst and hunger
- feeling tired (fatigue)
- frequent need to urinate
- frequent skin infections and urinary tract infections
- weight loss despite having an increased appetite
If blood glucose levels are very high, the following symptoms may be observed:
- fast breathing
- fruity-smelling breath (a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis)
- loss of coordination
- pain in the abdomen
- slurred speech
It's absolutely critical to get immediate medical attention if any of the above emergency symptoms develop. Make sure you get your child to a hospital right away.
Type 1 diabetes in children is treated by replacing the insulin that is needed to keep blood glucose from rising to high levels. Over time, high levels of blood glucose can increase the risk of complications. Research has shown that the more in balance (also referred to as "in control") blood glucose levels are, the better the chances of good long-term health.
Since type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition, learning to manage diabetes is an important treatment goal. Exercise, healthy eating, blood glucose testing, and insulin replacement are the cornerstones of diabetes management.
Family members of children with diabetes will need to learn how to give insulin injections. As children get older, they can learn to give themselves insulin injections and monitor their blood glucose levels. Giving insulin injections may seem overwhelming at first, but the routine will become less onerous over time.
Due to the increase in childhood obesity, many children are also being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. They usually do not need insulin right away, and are initially treated with diet, exercise, and weight loss. Some of these children may also eventually need insulin therapy if their blood sugars remain high.