Not long ago, it was thought that children are not affected by diabetes. There were only a few cases reported, and it was due to the fact that children were not being diagnosed because parents were not informed about childhood diabetes symptoms, and thus they did not seek early medical attention.
Having a child and watching the years pass with you by his side will leave you in awe. Leaving the joy aside, responsibilities arise. You will be more protective and pay more and more attention to your child’s needs and the way he acts. Occasionally, you will hear from your friends, parents, or on the news about different children being diagnosed with certain illnesses. The question you will ask yourself is: can children develop the same diseases as adults? Sadly, yes.
Parenting, child care and diabetes in children
To start of, if you feel that your child might be sick, seek immediate medical attention. Your role as a parent is to observe anything that you would describe as other than normal. You may see mood swings, changes in behavior, habits and physical appearance. If so, seek medical care.
For many years it was thought that diabetes was a disease exclusively for adults. But this is false and was based on the fact that children’s symptoms were not being interpreted as they would have been if it was the case of an adult.
The disease was overlooked in children until 2008-2009. But since then, epidemiological studies have concluded that the number of reported cases of diagnosed diabetes in children is on the rise.
Causes and risk factors of diabetes in children
To understand what is the cause of diabetes in children, we must first understand what diabetes actually is:
The human body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is a type of sugar used as fuel. The pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin which has the role of forcing glucose into the cells, in order to be put to use and produce energy. If the human body does not respond to insulin, a condition called insulin resistance, glucose builds up in the blood and can lead to other conditions such as heart and kidney diseases.
So why do children get diabetes?
The simple and short answer: Being overweight, like in adults, a key factor in developing diabetes.
Why is that? Being overweight means that the child has a surplus of fatty tissue, including on his stomach. Fat causes insulin resistance and thus can lead to diabetes.
The amount of daily physical activity plays a role in preventing the installment of diabetes by promoting fat loss and improving the cardiovascular system’s activity.
What about genetics?
Yes, genetics is yet another factor which has to be taken into consideration. Children who have relatives that suffer from diabetes are more likely to develop the diabetes.
Another factor to be taken into consideration is race. Although not fully understood by researches, it has been shown that African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
One other situation is when the child has been born underweight and the mother has developed, during pregnancy, a condition called gestational diabetes. These two factors are associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Childhood diabetes symptoms
Diagnosing diabetes is a task that should be left for the physician, but when paying attention to your child these are some of the signs that must never be overlooked and must be reported immediately:
Drinking more water than usual
This is a direct consequence of high blood glucose levels. The child’s body reacts to this by trying to eliminate as much as possible. It does so by urinating more frequently. Urinating often will cause dehydration, which will in turn cause your child to feel thirsty and drink more and more water. This condition does not improve unless you seek immediate medical care.
Although the physical appearance may not be so drastic, the way you notice this is through weight control.
This happens due to two things:
- Water consumption: like explained before, the amount of water that is excreted everyday plays a key factor.
- The glucose should have been used as fuel for cells. As it has not, the kidneys try to excrete as much glucose as possible, which may cause weight loss.
As said before above, kidneys excrete as much glucose as they can, but glucose is the fuel that keeps the body working. When there is insulin resistance, glucose is not being forced into the cells to be broken down, and thus, there will be less and less energy, leading to fatigue and constant tiredness.
You may notice your child being more reluctant to playing outside or engaging in any other sort of physical activity.
For a parent, the basic thing to know about this condition and when can you suspect it, is that it causes your child to have a fruity scented breath.
Keatoacidosis is a build up of glucose in the blood stream, along with ketones, which are molecules release when Fat cells are broken down. These Ketones are acidic, hence Keatoacidosis.
This build up happens because when there is insulin insufficiency the body can’t use glucose for energy, so it turns it into fat tissue. Because there is no energy available, the liver releases more glucose, and slowly builds up the levels of glucose. This glucose is then converted into Fat, and that Fat is eventually broken down and ketones are release, and so on. This happens continuously, and levels of both glucose and ketones build up.
Ketoacidosis is a condition that can be life-threatening if not treated properly.
Although diabetes only affects the eye after a period of time in which it hasn’t been kept under control, you still need to see the doctor, as he will need to order extra tests with which he’ll confirm or infirm a diagnosis.
So, if you see your child getting closer and closer to a book or the TV screen in order to see letters or distinguish characters, you should see a physician and Ophthalmologist.
Bruises and slow healing
When glucose build up in the bloodstream, in time, it affects the tiny blood vessels, called capillaries, which serve the role of feeding the tissues. If those blood vessels are damaged, the healing process will be slow and your child may have a wound which will not develop a scar for some weeks.
If you observe this, seek immediate medical attention as an open wound is a gateway for infection.
Management of disease
When you go to the Doctor’s office with you child having one or more of the above mentioned symptoms, the first thing the doctor will do is order some tests to correctly diagnose what is wrong.
If the result of these tests is that your child has Diabetes, the Doctor will form a team together with a dietitian to design a plan for you and your child. Every step of managing diabetes will be explained and how the treatment can be fir in your everyday lives.
First, you will be urged to stick to the meal plan made by the doctor and the dietitian. Generally speaking:
- the child will have to eat 3 meals and 2 snacks everyday.
- the number of sweets and processed foods will be reduced.
- also foods that contain a high amount of carbohydrates will be reduced.
Carbohydrates are the precursors of glucose in our bodies. That is why you will have to keep them down.
Also, if the meal plan provided by the doctor differs from these notes, stick with the plan provided by the doctor. These notes are provided only as an example. Your doctor knows best!
You will also be encouraged to engage in more physical activities with your child. If for any reason your child is unable to run or play sports, long walks are excellent and will help build up the body for other sports. This is specially true for overweight or obese children, as that fatty tissue on the abdominal area increases insulin resistance.
For cases where there is insulin insufficiency , The National Center for Biotechnology Information, in their article: “The infant and toddler with diabetes: Challenges of diagnosis and management”, have written some guidelines about insulin administration:
- At first it is better to start with a larger dose of insulin, about 0.25 to 0.5 units per kilogram of body weight, with a larger dose being administered in the morning and two thirds to three-quarters of each dose being given as NPH insulin and the remainder as Regular insulin.
- After some time, the dose is steadily increased but no more than 1 to 2 units per kilogram of body weight, until the blood glucose concentration start to fall in the desired target range(65 to 110 milligrams of glucose per dL of blood).
This approach helps to avoid the need of insulin dilution and is used to minimize the risks of hypoglycemia, which can be a serious risk factor for the child.
Again, if your Doctor prescribes any other insulin plan, follow the Doctor’s plan! Your Doctor knows best!
Diabetes is a fully manageable disease, and children live their lives and perform their everyday activities as a healthy child would do. As long as the parent is paying attention to their child, and he seeks medical care as soon as they suspect something is different, everything will be fine.