Childhood diabetes is currently ranked high among the most common chronic childhood diseases in the United States. In the past, childhood diabetes was referred to as type 1 diabetes, while type 2 diabetes was known as adult-onset diabetes. In recent years, however, the numbers of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has risen dramatically and continues to rise, as does the number of children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. No matter which type of diabetes a child has, diagnosis with such a serious condition can be devastating.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the child’s immune system goes into attack mode against the child’s pancreas. When the immune system attacks, it destroys insulin-producing cells. Without enough insulin, the door is shut between blood glucose and cells, leaving behind high blood sugar levels and a serious condition that could, without treatment, do significant harm to the functioning of the body. The causes of type 2 diabetes are still mostly unknown, though obesity and fatty, sugary diets contribute to the condition and to overall poor health.
Children with childhood diabetes are likely to complain of stomachaches or headaches and have behavior problems. Over a few weeks, the child may begin to feel excessively thirsty, lose weight, exhibit signs of fatigue, and urinate frequently. If a child complains of stomachaches and no diagnosis can be made, doctors should consider testing for childhood diabetes. Doctors can perform simple blood glucose tests and hemoglobin tests to determine whether diabetes is the cause of symptoms.
Treatment of diabetes in children is more complicated than in adults. Because of their sensitive bodies, children need to be seen by a specialist to treat their disease. Most often, a child with type 1 diabetes will need insulin treatment. Older children may use insulin pumps, while younger children are often prescribed insulin injections once or twice daily. Controlling the blood sugar levels in a child is extremely important, because diabetes can take a serious toll on the body over time and the child will have a much greater risk for developing complications, such as eyesight problems and kidney disease.
Having a child with diabetes can be difficult and frightening. The child may experience severe behavioral control problems due to blood sugar highs and lows. Other children may feel isolated from forming lasting friendships due to feeling like an outsider. Getting to know other families with children who have diabetes can help this. For the parent, lifestyle changes and the fear that the disease may harm the child can be stressful and could even cause emotional trauma or depression. Therapy and support groups can be helpful to both parents and children. Getting into a community of other people living with the disease can help.
No matter the age, diabetes and other blood sugar regulation issues are difficult and take their toll on the body. However, because children’s bodies can be more sensitive in their formative stages and because oftentimes the socio-emotional issues for young people with diabetes are more complicated, properly diagnosing and addressing diabetes in children is especially important.