Did you know your child’s body runs off sugar? It’s a sugar called glucose, not the type of sugar we add to coffee. Your child’s body breaks down the food he eats and glucose enters his bloodstream where it is taken into his cells to be used for energy. Moving glucose out of the bloodstream and into his cells is done by insulin, a substance produced by the pancreas.
We all need glucose to live and function, and like a 5-year-old with a bag full of candy, too much sugar can be bad. High blood sugar, hyperglycemia, is one of the defining factors of diabetes. There are two major forms of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. While both types are based on how insulin relates to the body, Type 2 diabetes is usually referred to as adult onset diabetes. The increasing obesity rate among kids and teens, has led to Type 2 diabetes becoming more prevalent among children.
Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes with the largest majority of patients diagnosed during childhood. While the exact cause is unknown, it results from either the absence (or destruction) of cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. When the body does not produce insulin, daily injections of insulin are required to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
Although signs and symptoms of diabetes may be subtle, classic symptoms include a significant increase in urination, significant increase in thirst, and, weight loss. One of the first signs may be new bedwetting in a child who was previously dry; or, increased daytime accidents. Often, the first sign is a serious and sometimes life-threatening state called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Due to a lack of insulin, DKA occurs when blood sugars levels are very high and the body produces ketones. Ketones are produced when the body has to break down fat for energy. High levels can cause electrolyte imbalances, vomiting, and confusion that can require medical attention.
Treatment of diabetes for children and teens requires a significant change in lifestyle for the entire family. Treatment includes close follow-up with an endocrinologist, maintaining good blood glucose control, frequent blood sugar checks, adopting a healthy diet, monitoring carbohydrate intake, and regular exercise. Type 1 diabetics will also take insulin. The goal of treatment is to help a diabetic child live a long, healthy, and productive life. Good long-term glucose control can prevent complications later in life such as heart disease, kidney disease, vision problems, nerve damage, and premature death.
A chronic illness like diabetes can be emotionally and socially difficult for children and teens. They may not understand why they have to take medications everyday. Teens may develop “diabetic burnout” because they are not free to eat and do activities the same as their peers. Family members and friends can be supportive by also adopting a healthy lifestyle, and by learning to recognize the signs of DKA, hypoglycemia, and burnout. Because diabetes management can be overwhelming for everyone involved, parents should consider joining support groups. Also, consider getting your child or teen involved in a diabetic camp, like Camp Seale Harris.
If you are concerned about diabetes in your child, discuss it with your child’s pediatrician. For more information on Camp Seale Harris, go to www.campsealeharris.com.