Understanding Diabetes in Children
Different types of diabetes occur in children. The most common one is an autoimmune disorder known as Type 1 Diabetes or Juvenile Onset Diabetes. The immune system usually fights against foreign bodies like germs and viruses. However, in the case of autoimmune disorders, it attacks different organs within the body mistaking them for external invaders.
In Type 1 Diabetes, the immune system attacks the beta cells of the pancreas which are responsible for synthesising and releasing insulin in the body. Once these cells are completely destroyed, the body can no longer make insulin. This leads to one developing Type 1 Diabetes.
Although a specific trigger for Type 1 Diabetes is not known, this condition is not caused by eating too many sweets. A cure for diabetes is not available, but managing this disorder after diagnosis will help your child lead a normal life.
Other Types of Diabetes in Children
- Type 2 Diabetes - With the rise in childhood obesity, Type 2 Diabetes (Adult Onset Diabetes) is now starting to develop in younger children. This type of diabetes is associated with being overweight or obese and having little to no physical activity.
- Diabetes Due to Medical Treatments - If a child is suffering from serious disorders including cancer, the medicines used to fight these disorders can lead to increased blood sugar levels. In such cases, insulin is administered to the child to manage blood sugar levels. Here, insulin is used only until the medicines affecting blood sugar levels are stopped.
- Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes - Children suffering from Cystic Fibrosis (CF) can also develop diabetes. Cystic Fibrosis is a hereditary disorder in which abnormally thick mucus is produced, leading to the blockage of pancreatic ducts, intestines and bronchi; resulting in respiratory failure, infection and malnutrition. The exact cause of what links cystic fibrosis with diabetes is not known but the probable link might be chronic inflammation of the pancreas due to CF, leading to the improper functioning of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
- Genetic Forms of Diabetes - Neonatal Diabetes and Maturity-onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY) are two genetic forms of diabetes that occur in newborns. They occur within the first 6 months of life (Neonatal diabetes) and can be treated with oral medication. MODY, on the other hand, may require oral medication or no medication at all. Hence, it is important to note that misdiagnosing this disorder as Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes can result in administering the wrong kind of treatment for the infant or child. Diagnosis of both forms is done through a simple blood test.
Recognising Diabetes in Children
Common symptoms of diabetes in children are excessive thirst and frequent urination. Although this can be attributed to seasonal infections, it can also be the result of excess sugar build-up in the bloodstream. This may lead to insulin’s lack of ability to feed the cells, resulting in loss of energy and feelings of hunger and fatigue in your child. If your child is eating more than usual, and still losing weight, it’s because diabetes is progressing.
Fat starts to burn instead of sugar in your child’s body. This results in a fruity-smelling breath, a condition known as Diabetic Ketoacidosis. Here, a chemical product called ketones is produced after fat is burned, high levels of which can lead to bad breath.
Highly elevated sugar levels will pull fluid from the lenses of your child’s eyes leading to blurry vision. Your child may also develop itchy skin, numbness or tingling in their hands and feet, unexplained abdominal pain and difficulty in breathing.
Girls may develop yeast infections and babies may develop diaper rashes due to yeast.
Your child may also experience delayed healing when wounded. Due to being resistant to insulin, they could also have darkened skin around the neck and armpit area, a condition that’s known as Acanthosis Nigricans.
Help Your Child Lead a Diabetes-Free Life
You can reduce your child’s risk of developing diabetes by adopting a healthy and active lifestyle. Avoid consuming too many processed foods, refined cereals, snacks that contain preservatives, and sugary beverages. Encourage your child to eat whole foods, mostly homemade foods that are not deep fried or oily. For newborn babies, breastfeeding for up to six months should be encouraged.
It is important to understand diabetes and work with your doctor, diabetes educator, and dietitian to help your child lead a normal and healthy life.
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