Diabetes in Kids – What Parents Should Know

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By: Venchi Balendez

Last December 27, 2017, a mother shared her experience on Facebook regarding her daughter who unexpectedly went into a lethargic state.

It started when they were having a mother-daughter bonding at the mall. Her daughter seemed weak and tired as if she was not feeling well. She also noticed that her daughter always gets extremely thirsty and pees frequently. She didn’t mind these symptoms and even blamed gadgets for her daughter’s lack of energy. It never came to her mind that her daughter is facing a serious problem.

After they went home, her daughter, still feeling weak, reported abdominal pain, so she decided to have her checked at the hospital. Thinking that her daughter only needs the usual medical check, she was shocked to find out that her daughter was already brought to the Intensive Care Unit due to a seriously high level of blood sugar, which shot up to 600 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), the normal range of which is only 60-80 mg/dL in children her daughter’s age. Her daughter went into a lethargic state and stayed in the ICU for several days due to serious Diabetic Ketoacidosis brought about by Type 1 Diabetes.

Clueless about her daughter’s situation, she had a lot of questions running through her mind, how and why this happened to her daughter.

Diabetes in children today

At present, due to the changes in diet and technology, there is lack of good nutrition and physical activities, making children more prone to diabetes. According to Dr. Susana Campos, a pediatric endocrinologist, fast food and candy commercials on television, greatly influence the children’s food preferences thereby increasing the risk of diabetes in children.

Just like adults, there are two classifications of diabetes in children: Type I and Type II.

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which is developed when our own body’s immune system attacks the pancreas, causing damage and affecting its ability to produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar level. Children as young as six months old can be affected by Type I diabetes. Since their body is not able to recognize sugar or glucose, they also tend to lose weight.

Type II diabetes, on the other hand, is caused by the insufficient production or delay in the release of insulin by the pancreas, which is commonly seen in overweight or obese children.

How do you know if your child has diabetes?

The signs and symptoms of type I diabetes in children usually develop quickly, over a period of weeks. These signs and symptoms include:

Increased thirst and frequent urination. Due to excess sugar build up in your child’s bloodstream, fluid from tissues is pulled out from the cells. As a result, your child gets very thirsty and urinates often, causing them to lose more weight than usual. You might wonder why your toilet-trained child might suddenly experience bed-wetting.

Extreme hunger. Because there is not enough insulin to move sugar into your child’s cells, there is lack of energy supply for the muscles and organs, causing the brain to trigger intense hunger.

Weight loss. Despite your child eating more than usual because of frequent hunger pangs, your child still loses weight — sometimes rapidly. Muscle tissues and fat stores shrink because of lack of sugar supplies for energy. Oftentimes, the first sign of type I diabetes in children is unexplained weight loss.

Fatigue. Since there is lack of sugar in your child’s cells, he or she may experience weakness, tiredness, and lethargy.

Irritability or behavior changes. Mood problems and decline in school performance may also be observed in children with diabetes.

Fruity-smelling breath. Ketones are produced when the body burns fat instead of sugar causing a fruity breath odor.

Blurred vision. Extremely high level of blood sugar may cause pulling out of fluids from the lenses of your child’s eyes affecting the ability to focus clearly.

Yeast infection. Genital yeast infection is common in girls with Type I diabetes and diaper rash may also develop in babies due to yeast overgrowth.

Type II diabetics are overweight, unlike Type I diabetics. They may also experience extreme thirst and frequent urination. Type II diabetics do not produce enough insulin to help absorb blood sugar in the body, and together with excessive sugar intake, causing them to gain more weight. Type II diabetics also have resistance to insulin.

How do you prevent your child from developing diabetes?

Unfortunately, there’s currently no known way to prevent type I diabetes but you can help your child prevent its complications. But unlike Type I diabetes, Type II diabetes can be prevented through these steps:

Give healthy food. Choose low fat and nutritious foods such as whole-grain cereals and bread, fruits, vegetables, milk, yogurt, cheese, lean meats, and other sources of protein.Help your child maintain good blood sugar control as much as possible. In babies, breastfeeding is one of the best ways to lessen the risk of diabetes.

Minimize fast food and sodas. These types of food contain a high amount of fat and sugar that can make your child overweight and develop type II diabetes.

Encourage physical activities. Keep your kids away from computer games and television. Help them get up and get moving to prevent diabetes and achieve a normal weight. Simple activities such as playing basketball, walking the dog, running around and other activities that make them get moving every day will do.

How do you confirm if your child has diabetes?

There are several blood tests for type I diabetes in children. Visit your pediatrician to facilitate these tests.

Random blood sugar test. The primary screening test for type I diabetes which needs a blood sample taken at a random time. A result of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 11.1 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), or higher suggests diabetes, regardless of when your child last ate.

Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This measures the average blood sugar level of your child for the past two to three months. An A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher on two separate tests indicates diabetes.

Fasting blood sugar test. This involves fasting overnight before a blood sample is taken. A fasting blood sugar level of 126 mg/dL (7.0 mmol/L) or higher indicates type I diabetes.

What are the warning signs you should watch out?

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, problems will still arise due to complications of diabetes. Low blood sugar, high blood sugar, and ketoacidosis require immediate care. If left untreated, these conditions can cause seizures and loss of consciousness (coma).

Hypoglycemia

Early signs and symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) include:

Pale complexion
Sweating
Shakiness
Hunger
Irritability
Nervousness or anxiety
Headaches

Later signs and symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) include:

Lethargy
Confusion or agitation
Drowsiness
Slurred speech
Loss of coordination
Odd behavior
Loss of consciousness

If you suspect that your child has a low blood sugar or has a low blood sugar reading, immediately give your child a dose of sugar from fruit juice, glucose tablets, hard candy, regular (not diet) soda or another source of sugar.

Hyperglycemia

Signs and symptoms of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) include:

Frequent urination
Increased thirst or dry mouth
Blurred vision
Fatigue
Nausea

Diabetes ketoacidosis

This is a life-threatening condition when left untreated, caused by excessive ketone build up in your child’s blood due to severe lack of insulin.

Signs and symptoms of DKA include:

Thirst or very dry mouth
Increased urination
Exhaustion
Dry or flushed skin
Nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain
A sweet, fruity smell on your child’s breath
Confusion

What is the treatment for children with diabetes?

Insulin. Both types of diabetics need insulin shots to regulate their blood sugar level.

Balanced diet. Help your child eat healthily and have a balanced diet.

Monitor blood sugar level. Blood sugar monitoring may be done several times a day, as prescribed by a physician.

Maintain physical activities. Get your child always on the move by having a regular exercise routine and involve your child in physical activities.

Maintain a normal weight. Especially for overweight children, a normal weight is ideal to treat diabetes.
If you observed several signs and symptoms of diabetes in your child, visit your physician immediately.

 

References:

  1. http://news.abs-cbn.com/lifestyle/08/06/15/why-children-are-more-prone-diabetes
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes-in-children/symptoms-causes/syc-20355306
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes-in-children/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355312
  4. http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/prevention.html#
  5. http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/treating-type1.html

 

Venchi is a registered nurse and mother of three, working as a part-time article writer.

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