I often see parents in the office who are worried that their child might have diabetes. It is important to know the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile onset diabetes.
While there’s plenty of coverage on Type 2 diabetes, which is typically related to childhood obesity, the mystery of Type 1 diabetes has not yet been totally explained. Type 1 diabetes affects about 1 in 400 children and adolescents.
There does seem to be a genetic predisposition (certain genes are being identified) to the disease, and then “something” seems to trigger the development of diabetes. Researchers continue to look at viral triggers, as well as environmental triggers, such as cold weather, since diabetes is more common in cold climates.
Early diet also may play a role, as there is a lower incidence of diabetes in children who were breastfed and who started solid food after 6 months of age.
In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough (or any) insulin. Insulin is needed to help sugars (glucose) in the diet to enter the cells of the body to produce energy. Without insulin, the body can’t make enough energy and glucose levels in the bloodstream become elevated, which leads to numerous problems. Children with Type 1 diabetes are often fairly sick by the time they’re diagnosed.
The most common symptoms of Type 1 diabetes are extreme thirst – while all kids drink a lot, this is over-the-top thirst – frequent urination (sometimes seen as new onset bed-wetting with excessive daytime urination, as well), excessive hunger, and despite eating all the time, weight loss and fatigue.
Any time a child complains of being thirsty or seems to have to go the bathroom a lot, parents, including me, worry about diabetes. But this is not thirst or having a few extra bathroom breaks or wetting the bed one night. The symptoms worsen and persist, and parents soon realize their child also is losing weight and not feeling well.
Although diabetes is currently not curable, great strides have been made in caring for diabetics and improving their daily lives. I now have children who are using insulin pumps, and one mother has had an islet cell transplant. The research being done is incredible, and hopefully there will one day be a cure.
In the meantime, try not to worry every time your child tells you he or she is thirsty or tired, as all kids voice these complaints from time to time. Do watch for ongoing symptoms.
Lastly, eating sugar does NOT cause Type 1 diabetes. It may lead to weight gain, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes, but that’s another story.
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a pediatrician, medical editor and media host. Submit questions at kidsdr.com.