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, particularly in America.
Approximately 90% of young people with diabetes suffer from type 1 and the number of patients who are children varies from place to place.
A figure of 17 per 100,000 children developing diabetes each year has been reported. As metabolic syndrome, obesity and bad diets spread, so too have the first incidences of type 2 diabetes, previously incredibly rare.
Further relevant pages
- Diabetes & pregnancy
- Juvenile diabetes
- Keeping your kids free from diabetes
- Teenage diabetes and blood glucose testing
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.
A diagnosis of diabetes can be a trying time for a family. There is a lot of information to take in, much of which will be learnt from day to day diabetes management.
The most common form of diabetes in children is type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system reacts against its own cells. There is no link with being overweight for type 1 diabetes. This form of diabetes can come on at any age, even before a child has become a year old in some cases.
The symptoms of diabetes may be noticed by your child becoming unusually thirsty on a regular basis and going to the toilet more than usual. Your child may become very tired and hungry and lose significant weight.
Vomiting, in addition to other symptoms above, could indicate dangerously high blood sugar levels - a condition known as ketoacidosis.
Treatment for type 1 diabetes will involve injections of insulin. These days some children may be put onto an insulin pump, which can be beneficial for keeping blood sugar under control. Injections are rarely welcomed by children but, after the initial shock, they commonly get used to the idea.
How easy diabetes is to deal with at school tends to vary from child to child and school to school. It’s advisable to speak to your school to agree how your child’s diabetes can be managed at school. Staff should be made aware that high and low blood sugar levels can occur and how these should be dealt with.
Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, an early form of type 2, can also occur in children. Children who are significantly overweight may develop type 2 or prediabetes within childhood. These types of diabetes will either be treated by lifestyle changes alone, or with medication as well.
Many type 1 diabetic children do not have diabetes in their families however, so the exact cause remains a mystery.
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?
Like adults, a number of symptoms may give early warning that diabetes has developed.
One or more of the following symptoms may be associated with diabetes:
- 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.
Guides, news and competitions for children aged 7 to 13 & their parents.
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.
Treating type 2 diabetes in children depends entirely on how far their condition has developed. At an early stage, it may be possible to treat the condition with an abrupt lifestyle change incorporating a healthier diet and exercise.
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.
Initially, the procedure for management and treatment of the disease can seem very complicated.
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.
Ensure that glucose is always available.
What sort of diet should children with diabetes eat?
Diabetics can eat exactly the same food as normal people: it is a myth that they can only eat food with no sugar for instance. However, diet is an extremely important consideration for any diabetic, particularly young diabetics.
A dietician will be able to advise you further, but it is certainly essential that your child has a balanced and healthy diet, high in complex carbohydrates and fibre.
Although you will have to build your family meals around your diabetic relation, there is no reason why this has to be a problem. A healthy diet benefits anyone.
The quantities of food that your child can enjoy depend entirely on his or her size and age, and will be established by the dietician and parents.
It is up to both you and your child to understand how their body copes with different foods, avoiding the ones that are negative.
It is necessary to be careful with sweet food, but it need not be 100 per cent off the menu.
What kind of exercise should children with diabetes do?
Exercise is the second major factor in controlling type 2 diabetes, and it is incredibly important for all children suffering from diabetes. Recommendations stand that children with diabetes should try to exercise every day. However, parents should be aware that physical activity lowers blood sugar levels.
It may be necessary for your child to reduce their dose of insulin, as in conjunction with exercise it can significantly lower blood sugar levels and result in hypos. When carrying out physical exercise your child should be near sugar.
Physical activity also governs how much your child can eat.