Children and teens with diabetes generally have type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can no longer produce any or enough insulin. Therefore, the treatment of type 1 diabetes in children is the administration of insulin.
Type 1 diabetes represents 10 per cent of all diabetes – the other 90 per cent is type 2 diabetes which prior to recent years, was seen primarily in adults over 40 years of age. However, as a result of obesity, there has now been an increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children.
What are the main symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children?
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually develop very rapidly, while the symptoms of type 2 diabetes can develop over months or years.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:
- Feeling very thirsty, and drinking a lot of fluids
- Needing to urinate frequently
- Feeling very hungry
- Sudden weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Fruity odour on breath
- Heavy or laboured breathing
How is type 1 diabetes in children treated?
The diabetes health care team will work with you and your child to determine the appropriate target blood glucose range. Children with type 1 diabetes need to inject insulin multiple times each day. This is administered through the use of an insulin pen or via an insulin pump.
Your child will also need to check his or her blood glucose levels at different times of the day. The frequency will be determined by the diabetes health care team.
Physical activity is also an important part of the diabetes management plan, but for children using insulin, adjustments may be needed, since physical activity can lower blood glucose levels. Your diabetes health care team can help your child learn how to reduce the risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose) that can occur during or after exercise.
Are there food restrictions for children with diabetes?
Children with diabetes should be encouraged to follow a healthy diet, similar to people without diabetes. There is no such thing as a ‘diabetic diet’. Children can eat ‘regular’ food, but for those with type 1 diabetes, they need to administer an appropriate amount of insulin for the food they eat. The dietitian will work with your child to determine the right balance.
What is the long term outlook for children with diabetes?
Children with diabetes can live a long and healthy life and can do activities just like other children who do not have diabetes. Parents and caregivers play an important role when children are young, but as they transition to teenagers and young adults, it is important to ensure that they will be able to self-manage their diabetes. Start early by letting your child do as much of their care as possible, as appropriate for their given age and ability.
There is an increased risk for complications, the longer your child has had diabetes. You can help reduce the risk of these complications by helping your child reach their target blood glucose levels and ensuring that your child has regular appointments with the diabetes health care team.
Where to find support
Parenting a child with diabetes can be challenging. The health care team plays an important role in supporting all aspects of management, whether it be insulin medication adjustment, tips for sending children to school or camp, emotional support to manage the diagnosis and informing others, or discussions regarding when to consider an insulin pump.