This is part two of a focus on diabetes. Last month explained the Type 2 diabetes epidemic in kids. To read it, click here.
Diabetes is a shocking diagnosis for parents to hear, but with treatment and education, children who have Type 1 diabetes can lead normal, healthy, active lives.
Type 1 (formerly called juvenile or insulin dependent) is a lifelong condition that occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enoughinsulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into cells where it is stored for energy use. Without insulin, blood sugar levels rise rapidly and can cause severe illness and death.
There is no known cure, so children with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin to replace what is not being produced by the pancreas. The exact cause of diabetes is unknown, but most likely the body's white blood cells mistakenly attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and destroy them. Genetic factors and environmental factors are thought to play a role.
Some people with diabetes will have no symptoms and are diagnosed during routine testing. Other children complain of feeling tired, unusually hungry, very thirsty, urinating more frequently or having unexplained weight loss. About one in three children are diagnosed with diabetes when they develop a very serious illness called ketoacidosis, which often requires hospitalization to get blood sugar levels under control.
Diabetes is diagnosed by checking blood sugar levels.
When a child is diagnosed with diabetes, it is critically important for both the parents and the child to become well educated in its management.
Treatment is very effective, but it requires a good understanding of how insulin works and how to manage problems that arise. Ideally, every child newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes should be evaluated by a diabetes team consisting of a pediatric endocrinologist, a nurse educator, a dietitian and a mental health professional qualified to provide up-to-date childhood-specific education and support.
Some basic things that every family needs to know are:
It's important to manage Type 1 diabetes carefully and consistently because complications develop over the span of many years and can affect the heart, blood vessels, nerves (neuropathy), eyes (retinopathy) and kidneys (nephropathy).
The good news is that keeping blood sugar levels close to normal most of the time can dramatically reduce the risk of these complications.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.