Type 1 Diabetes in Children

What is Type 1 Diabetes in Children?

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.

What are the Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes in Children?

Type 1 diabetes in children usually advance very rapidly.

Symptoms may include:

  • Frequent urination that may include bedwetting
  • Extreme thirst
  • Unusual hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • General feeling of illness
  • Lethargy
  • Moodiness
  • Bruises and cuts are slow to heal
  • Vision problems
  • Inflamed gums
  • Genital yeast infections in females

Type 1 Diabetes in Children Causes

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.

Environmental correlating factors include:

  • Certain viruses “” notably enteroviruses, rotavirus, mumps, and congenital rubella syndrome “” have been associated with Type 1 Diabetes in children. However, this data is inconclusive. Regardless, it is wise to have your child undergo immunizations to protect against many preventable diseases.
  • Breast-feeding might lower the risk, as well as waiting to include cow’s milk in a baby’s diet. Talk to your doctor about the best time to introduce cereal to your baby as well, as there has been some correlation found 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.

How is Type 1 Diabetes in Children Treated?

There are no curative treatments for type 1 diabetes. It requires lifetime blood sugar monitoring and insulin injections.

It may also require:

  • Continuous glucose monitoring
  • Healthy diet
  • Exercise
  • Illness management planning
  • Insulin delivery via a pump, syringe and/or pen

As a rule of thumb, blood sugar levels for children should be:

For kids ages 6 to 12

  • 90 – 180 mg/dL before eating
  • 80 to 180 mg/dL when fasting
  • 150 mg/dL+ before becoming physically active

For teenagers ages 13 to 19

  • 90 – 130 mg/dL before eating
  • 70 – 150 when fasting
  • 150 mg/dL+ before becoming physically active

Keep in mind the importance of blood sugar monitoring at bedtime. Recommended bedtime mg/dL levels are as follows:

  • Less than 6 years of age – 110 to 200 mg/dL
  • Ages 6 to 12 – 100 to 180 mg/dL
  • Teenagers – 90 – 150 mg/dL

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.

Symptoms of low blood sugar in children include:

  • Sweating (with or without feeling cold and clammy)
  • Loss of energy
  • Shaky feeling
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizzy feeling
  • Queasiness
  • Tingling in the feet and hands
  • Seizures or blackout (in very serious cases)
  • Kids may simply say they feel “˜funny’ and they may stop playing

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.

Symptoms of high blood sugar may include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination that may include bedwetting
  • Absence of saliva
  • Vison changes
  • Lethargy
  • Queasiness
  • Convulsions
  • Unconsciousness

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.

Symptoms of ketoacidosis in children may include:

  • Tremendous unquenchable thirst
  • Frequent urination that may include bedwetting
  • Appetite loss
  • Fruity smelling breath
  • Queasiness
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of strength
  • Paleness
  • Profoundly rapid breathing
  • Bewilderment
  • Passing out

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.

Type 1 Diabetes in Children Prevention

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.

However, the following are good ideas for those at high risk of developing Type 1 Diabetes:

  • Maintain good eating habits and healthy blood sugar
  • Encourage your child to incorporate daily exercise into his or her lifestyle
  • Have your child’s vision checked regularly, as poor eyesight is associated with the onset of the disease
  • Be positive: a good attitude is crucial for children with diabetes, and it should be instilled in them from an early age
Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017
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