Diabetes in Children: Everything You Need to Know

Diabetes in children or diabetes mellitus is a serious metabolic disorder that prevents the body from breaking down and using food normally, especially sugars (carbohydrates).

It can affect the heart, blood vessels, kidneys and neurological system and can lead to progressive vision loss over time.

Types of diabetes

There are several types of diabetes, but the most common are called type 1 and type 2 diabetes. However, type 1 diabetes is the most common in children.

Type 1 diabetes in children

Type 1 diabetes is caused by inadequate production of the hormone insulin by the pancreas. While type 1 diabetes can begin at any age, peak periods occur around 5 to 6 years of age and again from 11 to 13 years of age.

The first sign is usually increased frequency of urination; other symptoms are also present:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination, possibly bed-wetting in a toilet-trained child
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability or behavior changes
  • Fruity breath odor

It is important to identify these symptoms early because children who are later diagnosed with diabetes can become ill from high blood sugar and dehydration.

They may need intravenous fluids and insulin in a pediatric emergency room or critical care unit to stabilize their condition.

Type 2 diabetes in children

Type 2 diabetes was previously not diagnosed in children; however, with increasing rates of obesity, a representative number of children generally over the age of 10 years are presenting every day.

In addition to weight problems, other factors are identified such as having a family member with the disease, being born to a mother with diabetes during pregnancy, among other medical problems associated with how insulin is processed in the body.

In addition to the symptoms of type 1 diabetes, other symptoms may manifest as dark areas of the skin, especially near the neck or armpits.

Diabetes in children

Treatment and Management of Childhood Diabetes

Although there is no cure for diabetes, children with diabetes can have a nearly normal childhood and adolescence if they keep the disease under control.

  • Routine blood sugar monitoring and control.
  • Insulin therapy, given in several injections a day.
  • Strict healthy diet.
  • 30 minutes of exercise a day can also help your child control the disease.

Diabetes in Children: Parental Support is Critical

Supporting the child through the disease while learning to manage and become independent is a critical step in managing diabetes and helping to maintain a quality of life that does not interfere with normal childhood activities.

  • Children over the age of 7 can usually begin giving themselves insulin injections with adult supervision.
  • They can also check their blood sugar several times a day, always supervised by an adult familiar with diabetes treatment to make sure that your child is controlling his or her diabetes according to the guidelines provided by the treating pediatrician.
  • Encouraging good habits for managing diabetes when a child is young can have a positive and more bearable impact as the child gets older.
  • Many communities also have active parent groups where parents of children with diabetes can meet to discuss common concerns.
  • Routine well-child visits are important for detecting, treating and managing childhood diabetes.

Information on the My Health Fair website should not be construed as professional advice or medical recommendations.

Readers should direct any questions regarding personal health care to licensed physicians or other appropriate health care professionals.

Our sources: https://www.mass.gov/guides/pediatric-diabetes-data, https://www.mayoclinic.org/, https://diabetesjournals.org/