Diabetes In Children

Diabetes is a metabolic disease that affects the way that the body utilizes glucose, the body’s main source of fuel. Generally, what happens is that after you eat, glucose obtained from your food should be absorbed into your bloodstream. With the help of the hormone insulin, it is absorbed into the cells and your body then gets the energy it needs. However, with diabetic patients either the body does not produce enough insulin required or it is not functioning like it should. When this occurs the blood sugar levels get too high and results in the individual getting sick if it is not treated.

There are generally two types of diabetes (there is a 3rd type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy) namely:

Type 1 Diabetes – Also widely known as juvenile diabetes. In this case the pancreas cannot produce insulin and so even though the glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream it is unable to enter the cells and so high blood sugar levels can result if it is not properly treated.

Type 2 Diabetes – In type 2, even though your pancreas produces the insulin your body does not respond correctly to it. This is called insulin resistance and often results in a reduced production of insulin and leads to elevated blood sugar levels.

Unfortunately, the amount of individuals diagnosed with diabetes are on the rise and naturally so are the numbers amongst children. In the some countries, numbers approximately up to 29.1 million people have diabetes and of that about 208,000 (0.25%) are younger than 20 years of age. So about 1 in 400 children are diagnosed with diabetes before the age of 20. It is also interesting to note that while type 2 diabetes makes up 90-95% of all diabetic cases, for children it is incredibly rare. That is why it is also referred to as adult onset diabetes.

However, in recent years it is becoming more common due to increased obesity. To put it in perspective, in 2011-2012 there were 17,900 newly diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes in children aged 10-19 years whereas it was 5300 for type 2 diabetes.


The exact cause for type 1 diabetes is unknown but in most people with this disease, the body’s immune system mistakenly destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas which causes the complications associated with high blood sugar. Some risk factors for type 1 diabetes are:

  • Family History – You have a slightly increased risk of type 1 diabetes if anyone in your immediate family has it.
  • Race – Type 1 diabetes is more common among non Hispanic white people in the United States.
  • Genetic Susceptibility – You have an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes if you possess certain genes.

Similar to type 1, type 2 diabetes has no clear underlying cause. There is yet to be a clear consensus as to why certain children develop type 2 diabetes and others don’t, even with similar risk factors. However, the following factors do increase your risk:

  • Age and Sex – A lot of children develop type 2 diabetes at the start of puberty with adolescent girls more likely to develop the disease than boys.
  • Weight – this is the most prevalent risk factor when it comes to type 2 diabetes, even more so in children than in adults. The more fatty tissue they have, specifically around the abdomen, the more insulin resistant they become.
  • Family History – Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes puts you at an increased risk of developing the disease.
  • Inactivity – Not only does physical activity help control a child’s weight, it also expends glucose as energy and helps make your cells more insulin responsive.

What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes in Children?

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually develop relatively quickly over a few weeks, however type 2 may develop more gradually but they both tend to have the same symptoms below:

  1. Extreme hunger – Because your child’s cells have been starved of glucose your muscles and organs lack energy and this triggers hunger.
  2. Frequent urination and increased thirst – Increased thirst may be experienced due to the fact that the excess glucose in the blood pulls fluid from the tissues and so therefore the child may urinate more than usual.
  3. Fatigue – Lack of sugar and therefore lack of energy may result in tiredness or lethargic behavior in an individual.
  4. Weight loss – Despite eating frequently the child may experience rapid weight loss due to the fact that the muscles and fat stores simple do not have enough sugar and so they shrink.
  5. Irritability and behavioral changes – Your child may notice a decline in performance at school in addition to mood changes.

How to Diagnose Diabetes in Children

If diabetes is suspected, there are generally numerous blood tests for diabetes. However, for type 2 diabetes in children, a diagnosis generally requires two tests with abnormal results taken on different days. The tests for both type 1 and type 2 are the same and are listed below;

  • Fasting blood sugar test – A blood sample is taken after your child fasts for 8 hours and the blood sugar levels are measured.
  • Glycated Hemoglobin Test(AC1) – Measures your blood sugar level over the last two or three months. This is used when the fasting blood sugar test is inconclusive but your doctor still suspects diabetes.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test – A blood sample is taken after your child fasts for 8 hours and then they drink a sugary solution and they’re blood levels are then monitored over the next few hours.
  • Random blood sugar level test – A blood sample is taken and blood sugar level measured regardless of when they last ate.

After diagnosis your child may require frequent doctor visits to ensure that they are managing the condition properly as well as checking blood pressure and growth.

Treatment of Diabetes in Children

Treatment for both types of diabetes is lifelong and generally includes blood sugar monitoring. Your child’s treatment plan will change as your child continues to grow but should include insulin therapy, healthy diet, and regular exercise.

A diabetic requires insulin treatment to survive and as such there are a few options of both type of insulin and also delivery option. Insulin types include rapid acting insulin, short acting insulin, intermediate acting insulin and long acting insulin. Delivery options include a needle and a syringe, an insulin pen and an insulin pump.

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