shutterstock_1309145071_wlbtAtC.jpeg (shutterstock_1309145071.webp)When people think of diabetes, they often think of adults having the disease, but children can develop diabetes as well. Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how the body turns food into energy, especially sugars. There are two forms of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is more common in children than type 2, but numbers for both are rising due to an increase of childhood obesity in the United States. The diagnosis of diabetes in your child can be challenging and overwhelming, so we’ve outlined all you need to know about diabetes in children.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is more commonly diagnosed in children than in adults. Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children. About one in every 400 children in the United States develops type 1 diabetes. In the case of type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system does not recognize the cells in the pancreas that make insulin (beta cells) and attacks and destroys these cells. As a result, the body is unable to produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in the blood. Your child needs this hormone to survive, so the insulin must be produced artificially using insulin injections or a pump. If your child has type 1 diabetes, you and your child will need to learn to give injections, count carbohydrates, and monitor blood sugar.

While type 1 diabetes can happen at any age, the peak periods are from ages 5 to 6 and 11 to 13. Identifying symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children is important, as uncontrolled diabetes can lead to more serious complications.

Some symptoms of type 1 diabetes to look for in your child are:

  • Increased Thirst and Frequent Urination - Excess sugar building up in the bloodstream pulls from tissues, causing your child to be thirsty and urinate more frequently than usual.
  • Fatigue - Lack of sugar in your child’s blood cells can make them feel tired and exhausted more often than usual.
  • Fruity-smelling Breath - A sweet smell on your child’s breath, the same scent as acetone, could signal a build-up of harmful chemicals in the blood that accumulate when insulin levels are low.
  • Unintentional Weight Loss - Without the energy from sugar, fat stores, and muscle tissue can shrink.

While the cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, there are some risk factors which include:

  • Family History - If your child has a sibling or parent with type 1 diabetes, they have a higher risk of developing the condition.
  • Genetics - Some genes can indicate an increased risk of type 1 diabetes.
  • Race - In the U.S, type 1 diabetes is more common among caucasian children than other races.
  • Viruses - Exposure to certain viruses may trigger the destruction of islet cells (cells in the pancreas that make insulin).

If your child exhibits any symptoms of type 1 diabetes, or they have risk factors, you should take them to see their doctor so you can catch the condition early.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is more commonly diagnosed in adults, but with obesity on the rise, the number of children developing the condition is increasing. It is a chronic disease that affects the way your child’s body processes glucose (sugar). Without treatment, sugar builds up in the blood, which can lead to serious long-term problems.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes may develop gradually and may not be immediately noticeable in some children. Some symptoms are similar to that of type 1, like frequent urination, increased thirst, and fatigue. Children who display symptoms exclusive to type 2 diabetes may exhibit signs such as:

  • Blurry Vision - If your child’s blood sugar is too high, fluid can be pulled from the lenses of their eyes, causing them to have trouble focusing clearly.
  • Darkened Areas of Skin - Before type 2 diabetes develops, areas of the skin can darken, usually around the neck or in the armpits.

If your child experiences these symptoms, you should take them to their pediatrician to be tested. Type 2 diabetes is often found during routine checkups since the symptoms develop so gradually.

Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes

Unlike type 1 diabetes, there are plenty of things you can do to help your child prevent developing type 2 diabetes. Implementing healthy lifestyle choices can prevent developing the condition, and reduce the risk of complications if your child already has type 2 diabetes.

You can encourage your child to eat healthy foods that are low in fats and calories, and put an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains when making meals for your child. You can also help your child to become more active by getting them involved in their school sports, signing them up for dance lessons, or finding a physical activity that the family can do together frequently.

Not only will these lifestyle choices help your children, but they are beneficial for adults as well. Put the whole family on the diet and activity plan, and you can prevent health complications together.

Parenting a Diabetic Child

After your child is diagnosed with diabetes, this can be a challenging time for both of you to adapt to a new “normal.” As your child becomes more independent, they will learn to manage their diabetes with your help and supervision. Developing good diabetes management habits as a young child can impact their management habits when they grow older. Some things you may have to do are:

Parenting a Diabetic Child

After your child is diagnosed with diabetes, this can be a challenging time for both of you to adapt to a new “normal.” As your child becomes more independent, they will learn to manage their diabetes with your help and supervision. Developing good diabetes management habits as a young child can impact their management habits when they grow older. Some things you may have to do are:

  • Learn to count carbohydrates and monitor your child’s diet.
  • Learn how to give shots or use an insulin pump.
  • Manage both you and your child’s overwhelming emotions surrounding their diagnosis.
  • Understand how illness, exercise, and stress affect blood sugar levels.

It is important to know the risks of not managing your child’s diabetes properly. In particular, for a Type 1 diabetic, medication management is key. For instance, if your child gets too much insulin, they can develop hypoglycemia where their blood sugar can get too low. Hypoglycemia can lead to rapid heart rate, nausea, weakness, slurred speech, and even loss of consciousness. If your child doesn’t get enough insulin, the original symptoms of high blood sugar may return - including frequent urination, increased thirst, nausea, fatigue, or blurry vision.

When helping your child deal with Type 2 diabetes, you will aim to control their condition so they can develop normally and prevent health problems like obesity and high blood pressure. To help manage your child’s Type 2 diabetes, you will need to:

  • Help them to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
  • Have them take their medicines as prescribed, if applicable.
  • Monitor your child’s blood sugar levels regularly, if applicable.

It can be helpful to create a management system for your child that you can both learn and use. With the help of your specialist, you can create a management plan that includes eating healthy and exercising consistently, testing blood sugar regularly, and adjusting insulin based on blood sugar level and activities.

Being diagnosed with diabetes, either type 1 or type 2, can be a difficult challenge for a child and their family. If you take proper steps, you can improve the quality of life for your child as they learn to manage their condition. It is important to work closely with your care specialist to manage your child’s diabetes. If you think your child may have diabetes, Capital Area Pediatrics can diagnose children with the condition and refer them to a specialist, as well as provide emotional support and evaluations when they are sick.

If your child needs pediatric care, Capital Area Pediatrics offers top-tier pediatric care to families throughout Northern Virginia. Our dedicated team is committed to providing everything from specialty & chronic care services to sick visits. All of our providers and locations are accepting new patients and would be happy to reconnect with our existing families. Request an appointment online, or find a location near you today.