What Are Signs & Symptoms Of Childhood Diabetes?

By: Nicola Kirkpatrick

Updated July 15, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Deborah Horton

Diabetes is a complex disorder that is misunderstood by many. Many imagine diabetes as a result of an adult eating too much sugar, but that's simply not the case. Diabetes can develop in healthy children, and it can be difficult to manage. Today, we're going to look at childhood diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. It's formally known as type 1 diabetes.

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What Is Type 1 Diabetes?

Diabetes is when your pancreas does not make enough insulin. Insulin helps regulate the amount of sugar in your blood, turning blood into glucose and energizing your cells. If you aren't making enough insulin, you'll have high blood sugar, and this can damage your body, which we'll go into later. Although it can happen at any age, type 1 diabetes mostly occurs in children and adolescents.

The Cause

The cause of type 1 diabetes is still not known. Genetics may play a part in developing type 1 diabetes, but to what extent, it's not known. Certain environmental factors may also trigger type 1 diabetes, but what they are is unknown as well. An unhealthy lifestyle does not cause type 1 diabetes; that's type 2. There is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes, either.

Type 1 Vs. Type 2

Type 2 is the more common form of diabetes, and it is developed when you're an adult in most cases. Type 2 is what people usually think about when they imagine diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, you make enough insulin, but that insulin is resistant to work, and it can have the same effects as type 1. Type 2 diabetes is a bit more understood than type 1. Genetics play a part in developing type 2 diabetes, and also your diet and lifestyle. Those who are overweight and not active have a higher risk.

The Symptoms

Here are some of the symptoms to look out for if you suspect your child has type 1 diabetes:

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  • Frequent urination. This is caused by a child always being thirsty and needing to use the bathroom.
  • Being thirsty is another sign of diabetes. If your child always talks about being thirsty despite being hydrated, it could be a sign of diabetes. This is because the sugar in your bloodstream removes fluid from your child's tissues, leading to more thirst.
  • Your child has had an adequate sleep, yet always feels tired for whatever reason. This is another sign that they may have diabetes. This is because there isn't any sugar in the cells, which can lead to fatigue.
  • Similar to the thirst symptom, your child always feels hungry despite eating. This is because the sugar isn't going into the cells, which causes a lack of energy.
  • Sores that heal slowly.
  • Weight loss. Even if your child is eating more because they are hungry, you may see unexpected weight loss in your child. The tissues are not able to store fat as well, leading to the weight loss.
  • Dry skin that is always itchy.
  • If your child always has tingly feet or has feet that always fall asleep, it can be a sign.
  • Blurry vision. It's common to develop eyesight problems in childhood, but if their eyesight becomes unexpectedly blurry, it may be because the fluid is being removed from their eyes due to the high blood sugar.
  • Those who have diabetes may have breath that smells fruity, despite them not eating any fruit. When a child is burning fat and not sugar, this can cause that smell.
  • A child with type 1 diabetes may become more irritable and perform worse in school. This is because they are frustrated by all the symptoms they are having.
  • A girl with diabetes may develop yeast infections.

What makes diabetes difficult for many people to detect is that many of these symptoms are common, or a sign of something else. Some people have small bladders and may use the bathroom often. Other children have bottomless stomachs and feel hungry all the time. It's common for some people to have those pins and needles feelings in their feet. However, if your child is experiencing multiple symptoms of the above, then it may be time for them to get checked out.

Long-Term Effects

If the diabetes is left unchecked, it can lead to some long-term damage, including:

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  • Heart disease and stroke. Your child may develop high blood pressure, have a higher chance of developing coronary heart disease, and be at risk for more diseases in the heart and brain.
  • Nerve damage. If there is too much sugar, the nerves in your body can be damaged. This is especially noticeable in the legs, and you may experience tingling or pain in the feet. In extreme conditions, it can lead to your feet being amputated.
  • Kidney damage: The blood vessels in your kidneys may be damaged. The kidneys filter the blood, so they are needed to If unchecked, your kidneys can become so damaged that you may need dialysis or need a kidney from someone else.
  • Those who have their diabetes unchecked may develop eye damage as well. This can lead to blindness in extreme cases and can cause cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Diabetes can make your bones frailer, which can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Diabetes can cause many skin infections as well.

If the person with diabetes manages it well, these long-term complications can be avoided. This is perhaps the scariest part about diabetes.

Testing For Diabetes

If you suspect your child has diabetes, then you should go to a doctor to be sure. They will take a blood test and see if you or your child have any signs of diabetes. If their blood sugar is high, and they find ketones, which are fat breakdown byproducts, they may have diabetes. They'll see how their blood sugar has been controlled for the past few months and then make the diagnoses.

Treating Diabetes

As you probably know, there is no cure for diabetes. You can't just take a pill, and your insulin problem is permanently fixed. Instead, someone with type 1 diabetes has to inject themselves with insulin to keep their levels up.

Some ways of obtaining insulin include:

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  • A syringe. Many children, as well as adults, cringe at the idea of having to stick a needle in them to obtain more insulin, but that has to be done.
  • Insulin pen. This is similar to a syringe, but it's refillable, and the needle tends to be smaller and less invasive.
  • Insulin pump. If a child needs to have multiple injections, a pump delivers them automatically. It's about the size of a phone and connects to the body via a catheter.
  • Insulin inhaler. All the forms of insulin so far have required you to insert it into your body. Is there one that is less invasive? Yes, there is. An inhaler delivers insulin fast, but they may still need to inject as well.
  • So far, there is no insulin pill available to take. Insulin breaks down through the stomach, making it difficult to create a pill that can deliver the insulin. One day, it may happen.

Those who have diabetes will need to check their blood sugar often. Six to ten times a day is recommended. Checking blood sugar usually involves finger sticks, and this may sound scary to many children. However, there has been technology that makes the sticks unnoticeable.

Finally, those with diabetes must be mindful of what they eat, watching their sugars and carbs, so they don't have blood sugar that is too high or low. Depending on the lifestyle, the amount of insulin needed may change. Some may need more or less depending on what they eat.

If your child has diabetes, they also need to be taken to a doctor regularly for checkups. Managing diabetes is tricky, and your doctor can help you and your child work out any kinks before any complications arise.

As you can see, diabetes is a difficult disease to have because it requires so much management, which can be stressful for a child, let alone an adult.

Seek Help!

Diabetes can be stressful for both you and your child. It can be costly to manage diabetes, and you hate seeing your child suffer. Meanwhile, your child may be frustrated with having to manage their insulin, blood sugar, and not being able to eat the way a kid wants to eat. They may feel inferior and feel like there is something wrong with them.

You and your child may need more than just a doctor to get you through their diabetes. They may need to seek counseling. A good counselor can encourage the child to manage their diabetes and learn coping tricks, and they can help you to relieve any stresses you have the disorder.

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