Type 1 diabetes in children
Type 1 diabetes in children is a condition in which your child’s pancreas no longer produces the insulin your child needs to survive, and you’ll need to replace the missing insulin. Type 1 diabetes in children used to be known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes.
The diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in children can be overwhelming at first. Suddenly you and your child — depending on his or her age — must learn how to give injections, count carbohydrates and monitor blood sugar.
Although type 1 diabetes in children requires consistent care, advances in blood sugar monitoring and insulin delivery have improved the daily management of type 1 diabetes in children.
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. Scientists do know that in most people with type 1 diabetes the body’s own immune system — which normally fights harmful bacteria and viruses — mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing (islet) cells in the pancreas. Genetics may play a role in this process, and exposure to certain viruses may trigger the disease.
Insulin key to sugar entering cells
Whatever the cause, once the islet cells are destroyed, your child will produce little or no insulin. Normally the hormone insulin helps glucose enter your child’s cells to provide energy to the muscles and tissues. Insulin comes from the pancreas, a gland located just behind the stomach.
When everything is working properly, once you eat, the pancreas secretes more insulin into the bloodstream. As insulin circulates, it acts like a key by unlocking microscopic doors that allow sugar to enter the body’s cells. Insulin lowers the amount of sugar in the bloodstream, and as the blood sugar level drops, so does the secretion of insulin from the pancreas.
The liver acts as a glucose storage and manufacturing center. When insulin levels are low — when you haven’t eaten in a while, for example — the liver releases stored glycogen, which is then converted to glucose to keep your blood glucose level within a normal range.
Dangerous sugar level in bloodstream
In type 1 diabetes, none of this occurs because there’s no or very little insulin to let glucose into the cells. So instead of being transported into your child’s cells, sugar builds up in your child’s bloodstream, where it can cause life-threatening complications.
The cause of type 1 diabetes is different from the more common type 2 diabetes. In type 2, the islet cells are still functioning, but the body becomes resistant to insulin or the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin.
The signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children usually develop quickly, over a period of weeks. Look for:
- Increased thirst and frequent urination. As excess sugar builds up in your child’s bloodstream, fluid is pulled from the tissues. This may leave your child thirsty. As a result, your child may drink — and urinate — more than usual.
- Extreme hunger. Without enough insulin to move sugar into your child’s cells, your child’s muscles and organs become energy-depleted. This triggers intense hunger.
- Weight loss. Despite eating more than usual to relieve hunger, your child may lose weight — sometimes rapidly. Without the energy sugar supplies, muscle tissues and fat stores simply shrink. Unexplained weight loss is often the first sign to be noticed.
- Fatigue. If your child’s cells are deprived of sugar, he or she may become tired and lethargic.
- Irritability or unusual behavior. Children with undiagnosed type 1 diabetes may suddenly seem moody or irritable.
- Blurred vision. If your child’s blood sugar is too high, fluid may be pulled from the lenses of your child’s eyes. This may affect your child’s ability to focus clearly.
- Yeast infection. Girls with type 1 diabetes may have a genital yeast infection, and babies can develop diaper rash caused by yeast.
When to see a doctor
Talk to your child’s doctor if you notice any of the signs or symptoms of type 1 diabetes — increased thirst and frequent urination, extreme hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, or fatigue.