Does your child urinate often, especially at night, or is he always thirsty? That may be a symptom of diabetes in children.
Diabetes is no longer an uncommon disease, as more and more people acquire it in their lifetime – even kids. If not managed, diabetes can pose a serious health risk to your child, so you need to detect it early, and if possible, prevent it.
We interviewed Dr Eleonor, a diabetes expert in the Philippines to explain what diabetes is and its symptoms in children and adults.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition that affects how the body uses glucose, the most common type of sugar found in the blood. The primary source of energy for the body is glucose, which comes from the meals we eat.
The hormone insulin is required by the body to utilise glucose. However, in persons with diabetes, the body either cannot produce insulin or the insulin does not function properly in the body.
Diabetes is classified into two types:
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas and destroys insulin-producing cells.
It is common in people under 18 years of age. Babies can also have it, but it is more common in children ages 4 to 6 years old and 10to 14 years old.
The children who have this will need lifetime insulin injections for life. This means that a child will inject insulin for life until he or she grows up. Often the source or cause is said to be genetic.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas can still produce insulin but the body does not respond appropriately to it.
Type 2 diabetes or non-insulin dependence is more common in the elderly. But it is also seen to be increasing in number among children. Children who are approaching their adolescent years are commonly affected.
Glucose cannot enter the cells normally in any kind of diabetes. This produces an increase in blood sugar levels, which, if not handled, can make someone unwell.
What Are the Common Causes of Diabetes in Children?
Genetics or heredity is the most common cause of Type 1 diabetes. But there are other environmental factors that are considered to cause it, such as exposure to viruses, said Dr Eleonor.
Some examples are mumps and enteroviruses that can cause diarrhoea, respiratory infections, sore throat, fever, and others. It could cause damage to the pancreatic cells that produce insulin in our bodies.
Meanwhile, the source of Type 2 diabetes is linked to being overweight and obesity.
According to Dr Eleanor, having a family history of Type 2 diabetes, being born to a mum with diabetes, and being born too small or too large for gestational age, also predisposes one to a much higher risk of developing the condition.
Symptoms of Diabetes in Children
These are the symptoms and signs of diabetes in children. It is said that the symptoms of Type 1 and 2 diabetes are the same.
- frequent urination especially at night.
- frequent thirst
These are the ‘unusual symptoms or signs of diabetes in a child that are not immediately noticed and are mistaken for another cause.
- Weight loss and infrequent meals
- Lacks energy and gets tired quickly – being lazy, lacking exercise, sleep or vitamins.
- Difficulty breathing – often mistaken for asthma or respiratory infection. But it is a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis, a severe complication of Type 1 diabetes that can lead to coma and death.
Is It Possible to Prevent Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes cannot be avoided. Doctors have no idea who will get it and who will not.
According to Dr Eleonor, Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition and it will never go away. However, there are medications and lifestyle choices that can prevent complications and help the child to live a normal life, such as injecting insulin.
“With the current treatment available, insulin injection has to be for life unless in the future, there might be some developments. The body’s pancreas, which makes insulin to control blood sugar is no longer working in this population. Insulin is available only as injection, no oral preparation,” said the doctor.
Because type 1 diabetes is not communicable, children and teenagers cannot contract it from another person or pass it on to friends or family members. Eating too much sugar does not cause type 1 Diabetes.
There is no good way to predict who will develop type 1 diabetes, but blood testing can detect early symptoms. However, these tests are not frequently performed because doctors have no method to prevent a kid from having the disease even if the tests are positive
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Is it possible to prevent type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes, unlike type 1 diabetes, can occasionally be avoided. Excessive weight gain, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle are all risk factors for type 2 diabetes. This can be cured by lifestyle changes. Obesity or being overweight is the most common cause, which is why Dr. Eleonor encourage children to eat a nutritious and balanced diet, and exercise.
Parents should also model healthy behaviour. Most often, with weight loss alone, these children with type 2 diabetes can be taken off medication, said the doctor.
Previously, type 2 diabetes was only found in adults. However, as the number of overweight children grows, so does the number of children and teenagers diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Although children and teenagers may be able to avoid or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by controlling their weight and increasing their physical activity, other risk factors for type 2 diabetes cannot be altered.
Children who have one or more family members with type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop the disease, and various ethnic and racial groupings are more prone to develop it.
What Can Parents Do?
According to Dr Eleanor, discipline is the most important thing for people with diabetes. Parents of children with diabetes should be reminded of the following:
- Adherence to medication – Especially for those with Type 1 diabetes. Your child should have regular insulin injections every day. Like water and food, insulin is essential for a child with Type 1 diabetes.
- Diet and exercise – Diabetes does not mean that a person can no longer eat tasty foods. What is important, according to Dr Eleonor, is to have a nutritious and balanced diet for your child to eat. Reduce feeding carbohydrates found in rice and bread. You can also consult a nutritionist to ensure make sure your child’s blood sugar is in check with his diet.
- Monitoring and follow-up – It is important to always check in with the doctor to learn about your child’s diabetes status and learn how to monitor your child’s blood sugar. There are also home checkers to find out and monitor your child’s glucose or blood sugar without having to prick his fingers, according to Dr Eleonor.
Preventing Diabetes in Children
For children with Type 2 diabetes, weight control is the main recommendation to avoid it. Getting enough sleep and regular physical activity, and sugary foods is one of the things that can help a child not have Type 2 diabetes.
If you notice diabetes symptoms in your child, do not hesitate to consult his paediatrician to assess if he is indeed a candidate for type 1 diabetes and if not, to learn how to prevent your child from acquiring this chronic disease.
For more information on how you can choose a healthy lifestyle for your baby and the whole family, visit https://babypass.health/
This article was originally written by Marhiel Garrote and translated with permission from theAsianparent Philippines.
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