Children and Diabetes

Throughout the world, incidences of diabetes are on the rise, and consequently so is diabetes amongst children. Most children are affected by type 1 diabetes in childhood.

However, the number of children and young adults affected by type 2 diabetes is beginning to rise.

Approximately 90% of young people with diabetes suffer from type 1 and the number of patients who are children varies from place to place.

How is diabetes caused in children?

The actual causes of the diabetic condition are little understood, in both children and adults. It is widely speculated that diabetes occurred when inherited genetic characteristics are triggered by environmental factors such as diet or exercise.

Type 2 diabetes amongst children is usually caused by an extremely bad diet from a very young age, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle without exercise.

What symptoms do children with diabetes exhibit?

One or more of the following symptoms may be associated with diabetes:

  • Thirst
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urination

Amongst children, specific symptoms may include stomach aches, headaches and behavioural problems.

Recurrent tummy pains and an unexplainable history of illness should be treated as possible heralds of diabetes.

How are children with diabetes treated?

After diagnosis, a child will usually be referred to a regional diabetes specialist. Most children with diabetes are cared for by their hospital as opposed to their GP.

Because type 1 typically means that the vast majority of islet cells have been destroyed and insufficient or zero insulin can be produced, the only certain method of treating diabetes in children is insulin treatment. Usually a diabetes care team will plan an insulin regimen suited to individual requirements and habits of the child.

Fast-acting insulin will generally be administered during the day, and nocturnal levels will be controlled by a slow-acting dose. Insulin pumps are also common amongst children. Sometimes, in the initial period following diagnosis, small children will only need a very small dose of insulin, but this will unfortunately change as they grow older and larger. Good glucose control is essential in the management of all diabetics’ conditions.

What can the parents of children with diabetes do?

Keeping a strict eye on the blood glucose levels of your child, avoiding lows and highs, can be a large part of being a parent of a child with diabetes. Parents must be aware that children with diabetes have diet restrictions, and that their activity levels need to be closely monitored. Initially, and throughout the lifetime of the disease, diabetes can be a serious strain. Patients and their families alike should know that support is available.

Understanding how the disease affects your child, being adaptable and patient, are essential to successfully managing diabetes.

Some things to bear in mind include:

  • You may have to deliver insulin injections at first, and even if you do not need to then you should know how to. There are two major delivery sites, above the abdomen and in the thigh, but your healthcare team will elaborate. 
  • You should become familiar with the symptoms of low blood glucose, and also diabetic ketoacidosis. As well as recognising these conditions, you should know what to do if they occur.
  • Monitor your child’s blood sugar levels, and as soon as they are old enough teach them how to do this. Similarly, as children become older they need to learn how to administer their own insulin injections. 
  • Make sure that people know your son or daughter is diabetic, and that they also know what to do if the symptoms of low blood glucose manifest themselves.

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