Type 1 diabetes in children is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas and damages insulin producing cells. Type 1 diabetes was formerly referred to as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes since it most often strikes children and teens.
When the pancreas creates little to no insulin, injections are necessary. Without insulin, sugar stays in the bloodstream instead of entering the cells. When left untreated it can cause serious damage to major organs and lead to coma and death.
Type 1 diabetes in children usually advance very rapidly.
There are no known causes for Type 1 Diabetes in children — the disease appears to be largely hereditary and genetic in nature. In particular, white children of non-Hispanic descent are most susceptible to it.
However, there are several environmental factors that appear to be correlated with Type 1 Diabetes.
While there are no conclusive causes, there are symptoms to look out for. A child who experiences sudden and intense hunger, acute thirst, frequent urination, exhaustion, weight loss, changes in attitude or behavior, or breath that smells of fruit should be taken to the doctor.
There are no curative treatments for type 1 diabetes. It requires lifetime blood sugar monitoring and insulin injections.
It is also important to realize the signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in children. Treatment requires eating or drinking something to raise the blood sugar to safe and acceptable levels.
It is essential to keep glucose tablets, orange juice and/or sugared soda on hand at home, at school and while away. It is also imperative for the child to wear a medical bracelet at all times.
Just as it is important to recognize the signs of low blood sugar in children, it is also vital to distinguish signs of high blood sugar. It occurs more often in times of illness and stress. Certain medications can also raise blood sugar levels in kids.
It is also critical to know the signs of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), especially when the child is sick or injured. It can occur when insulin injections are missed or inadequate. It is a very serious complication of type 1 diabetes in children, and it may result in loss of consciousness and death if not recognized and treated.
A ketone test kit should be kept on hand, and the level should be checked if blood sugar readings are above 250 mg/dL. Seek emergency medical attention if moderate to high ketones are detected in the urine or if the child has vomited three times or more within 24 hours.
A personalized treatment plan will be provided by the child’s healthcare provider. It will include insulin amounts, delivery options and information and tools for blood sugar monitoring. Also, support groups and classes on type 1 diabetes in children are often very helpful. With diligence, a good diet, exercise and proper care, risks of complications will be greatly reduced.
Without any known causes for the disease, there are no known ways to prevent it. Antibodies correlated with the disease can be tested for, but they are not a reliable indicator of whether the child will develop diabetes.
After diagnosis, the disease can typically be managed by administering regular insulin injections, as well as healthy eating habits and exercise.