Written by First Physicians Group Pediatrician Deirdra Myers, MD
Did you know that 1.6 million Americans are living with Type 1 diabetes, including about 200,000 people younger than age 20? There’s nothing we can do to prevent Type 1 diabetes (T1D), and currently, there’s no known cure.
T1D can affect adults or children; having it can increase risk for a number of illnesses, including severe illness or complications from COVID-19 and influenza.
If you’re a parent, here’s what you need to know about Type 1 Diabetes in children — signs, symptoms and diagnostic testing.
What is Diabetes?
When we eat, sugar from the food (glucose) enters the bloodstream. Glucose is the body’s main fuel source. A hormone called “insulin” is created by the pancreas to regulate blood-sugar levels and to help glucose get to the body’s cells, providing the energy that the cells need to function.
In short, the body needs glucose to keep running.
Diabetes, an autoimmune disorder, affects how the body uses glucose: Either the body cannot make insulin, or the insulin does not work as it should.
As a result, the glucose can’t get into the cells normally, and the body’s blood-sugar level can build up. If high levels of blood sugar continue, it can cause health problems over time, even serious illness if left untreated.
Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes in Children
Both type 1 (T1D) and type 2 diabetes (T2D) are chronic conditions that can make blood-sugar levels higher than normal, but they do so in different ways.
Type 1 diabetes develops when the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This causes the body to stop making insulin. Genetics may contribute to developing type 1 diabetes, but there are also other causes or triggers from the environment, including viruses. Treatment can help, but there is no cure at this time.
In children with Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still makes insulin; however, the body does not produce enough insulin or cannot use the insulin properly.
Childhood T1D Signs & Symptoms
Although Type 1 diabetes develops gradually over time, the symptoms actually come on suddenly. Look for these T1D warning signs and symptoms of in children:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Feeling very tired
- Extreme hunger
- Blurred or decreased vision
- Unintentional weight loss
- Bedwetting overnight (especially when they previously did not)
- Vaginal yeast infections (girls who develop diabetes are more likely to get vaginal yeast infections before being diagnosed and treated)
Sometimes, symptoms of Type 1 diabetes can quickly progress to nausea, vomiting, dehydration and severe illness, or even loss of consciousness, if not detected early. If a child experiences these serious symptoms, take them to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.
Diagnosing Childhood Type 1 Diabetes
If your child experiences any of the common T1D symptoms, be sure to talk to his/her pediatrician about your concerns and ask whether diagnostic testing is recommended.
Screening tests that can help diagnose diabetes, including:
- Checking blood sugar using a small drop of blood from the tip of a finger and a handheld glucometer
- Checking glucose or ketones via urine sample
- Glucose tolerance test
- Hemoglobin A1c, which looks at the chronic elevations of blood sugars
Caring for Children with T1D
For children, teens and young adults with Type 1 diabetes, treatment aims to maintain normal blood-sugar levels through regular monitoring, insulin therapy, diet and exercise.
Children with Type 1 diabetes — and their families — need a lot of care and support.
Children usually need blood sugar checked often (as prescribed); they are given insulin injections or use an insulin pump. It’s important that they eat a healthy balanced diet with accurate carbohydrate counting, that they get regular exercise and that they stick to a routine of regular checkups with their pediatricians and the diabetes healthcare team.
Annual well checks help pediatricians detect risk factors for diabetes or signs and symptoms that may lead to it. The checks also give families an opportunity to discuss their child’s health needs or any questions they may have.
If you are concerned that your child may have symptoms of type 1 diabetes please do not hesitate to call or discuss these concerns with your pediatrician or other healthcare providers.
Diabetes, Flu & COVID-19
Getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever this year, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And for those with certain underlying medical conditions, like diabetes, flu vaccination is especially vital. Diabetes can make the immune system less able to fight infections, and people with diabetes are at higher risk of developing serious complications from flu.
Flu shots are recommended for most people older than 6 months, and are now available at First Physicians Group offices and at all Sarasota Memorial Urgent Care Centers.
Board-certified pediatrician Deirdra Myers, MD, treats infants, children and adolescents at Sarasota Memorial’s First Physicians Group office in Lakewood Ranch. For appointments and more information, call (941) 366-3000.