There are different forms of diabetes, commonly referred to as type 1 and type 2. Diabetes is a disease that prevents the breakdown of carbohydrates and sugars by the body for appropriate use. This is due to a lack of insulin or resistance to insulin. Both types of diabetes can occur at any age, but children are more commonly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Good control of diabetes is important in children, because the disease can affect certain body parts down the line, such as the eyes, kidneys, the nervous system and the heart.
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone that allows the body to utilize sugars for energy. Common symptoms include:
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Excessive appetite
- Weight loss
Peak ages for type 1 diabetes diagnosis are between the ages of 5 and 6 and again at 11 through 13 years of age.
Managing diabetes in your child
Controlling diabetes is very important to avoid disease complications. Your child will likely see a pediatric endocrinologist for management. This usually involves regularly checking the blood sugar and administering insulin. Insulin can be given by injections or through a pump. Regulation of carbohydrate and sugar intake in the diet is equally important. Your family will often meet with a nutritionist at the time of diabetes diagnosis. Regular exercise is also a vital component of disease management. Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes. That’s why establishing good managing strategies early on will set kids up for success into adulthood.
A great way to help your child maintain a sense of independence is to gradually (and age appropriately) increase their responsibility for managing the disease. Depending on developmental stage, this might mean carb counting in the diet, checking sugars or administering their own insulin. This should be done under adult supervision when starting out.
You are not alone! In many communities, there are parent/family support groups with families with diabetes. There are also youth camps across the country. Your doctor should be able to give you local resources.
Concerning symptoms to recognize
- Too little insulin: the old symptoms of diabetes will return. This might include increased thirst/hunger and urination or weight loss.
- Too much insulin: this can lead to low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. Symptoms include nausea, feeling tired or weak, heart beating fast, shaking, and when severe, loss of consciousness.