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Signs & Symptoms of Diabetes in Children

Diabetes in Children

Type 1 diabetes in children is a medical condition where their pancreas no longer produces insulin which is essential to survival. Formerly known as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes, treatment for this condition in children usually involves replacing the missing insulin. Diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes in children can often be overwhelming in the beginning due to suddenness of the discovery, depending on the age of the child & learning to monitor blood sugar, count carbohydrates & giving injections. Advances in blood sugar monitoring & insulin delivery has drastically improved daily management of Type 1 diabetes in children even though this requires consistent care.

Signs & Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes in Children

Typically developing very quickly, signs & symptoms of Type 1 diabetes in children include the following. Therefore talk to the doctor in case you notice any of these signs & symptoms of Type 1 diabetes in children.

  • Increased Thirst with Frequent UrinationWhen excessive sugar builds up in the bloodstream fluid gets pulled out of body tissues. This will eventually leave the child thirsty. As a result of this children may drink water & urinate much more than usual.
  • Extreme HungerWithout adequate insulin to move sugar into body cells, children’s organs & muscles will eventually become energy-depleted. This will in turn trigger intense hunger.
  • Unexplained Weight LossIn spite of eating much more than usual so as to relieve hunger, children most often lose weight, at times quite rapidly. Fat stores & muscle tissues simply shrink without sufficient energy sugar supplies. Therefore, unexplained weight loss is most often the first signed to be noticed in children suffering from Type 1 diabetes.
  • FatigueChildren will become tired & lethargic when their cells are deprived of sugar due to Type 1 diabetes.
  • Unusual Behavior or IrritabilityChildren with undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes will quite often suddenly seem to get irritable or moody.
  • Blurred VisionIn case blood sugar is too high in children with Type 1 diabetes, fluid may be pulled from lenses of their eyes. This may subsequently affect their ability to focus visually.
  • Yeast InfectionGirl child suffering with Type 1 diabetes may develop a genital yeast infection while babies are often found to develop diaper rashes caused by yeast.

Causes of Type 1 Diabetes

Although exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is still unknown, genetics may be playing an active role in process & exposure to certain viruses which may be triggering this disease. Body’s own immune system that normally fights harmful viruses & bacteria are found to mistakenly destroy insulin producing cells in pancreas in most people with Type 1 diabetes.

Insulin is Key to Sugar Entering Cells

Whatever may be the cause of Type 1 diabetes, it is noticed that once islet cells of pancreas are destroyed, children will produce almost little or no insulin at all. Insulin normally helps glucose enter body cells so as to provide energy to tissues & muscles. This insulin normally comes from pancreas which is a gland located behind the stomach. Pancreas secretes more insulin into bloodstream when you eat in a normal healthy condition. This circulating insulin acts like a key by unlocking microscopic cell doors which allow sugar to enter them & subsequently lowering the amount of sugar within the blood stream. Secretion of the level of insulin from pancreas also drops along with decrease in blood sugar levels. Liver acts as a glucose storage & manufacturing center in the entire process. When you have not eaten & insulin levels are low, liver releases stored glycogen which is subsequently converted to glucose so as to keep blood glucose levels in normal range.

Dangerous Levels of Sugar in Bloodstream

None of this activity ever takes place in Type 1 diabetes patients as there is very little or no insulin to let go glucose into cells. Therefore, instead of being transported into cells, sugar builds up within bloodstream so as to cause life-threatening complications in children. Cause of Type 1 diabetes is however different from the more common Type 2 diabetes as islet cells are still functioning in Type 2 diabetes where body is found to become resistant to insulin or pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin.

Type 1 Diabetes Risk Factors

Some of the known & possible risk factors for Type 1 diabetes are listed below.

Known Risk Factors

  • Family HistoryHaving any parent or sibling with Type 1 diabetes poses a slight increased risk of developing this condition.
  • Genetic SusceptibilityPresence of certain genes indicate increased risk of developing Type 1 diabetes in quite a few cases. Genetic testing can be done through a clinical trial so as to determine children having a family history with increased risk of developing Type 1 diabetes.

Possible Risk Factors

  • Viral ExposureExposure to Cytomegalovirus or rubella, Coxsackie virus, or Epstein-Barr virus may trigger autoimmune destruction of islet cells, or these viruses may directly infect pancreatic islet cells.
  • Lower Levels of Vitamin DResearch indicates that vitamin D offers protection against Type 1 diabetes. However, early intake of cow milk which is a good source of vitamin D has also been linked to increasing risk of developing Type 1 diabetes.
  • Other Dietary FactorsDrinking water which contains nitrates are also found to increasing risk of developing Type 1 diabetes. Timing of introduction of cereal into baby diet may also affect risk of developing Type 1 diabetes in children. Clinical trials have found that 4 – 7 months age-period of children is the optimal time for introducing cereal in children’s diet.

Complications Involving Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, is found to be capable of affecting nearly all major organs in children’s bodies including kidneys, eyes, nerves, blood vessels & heart. However, keeping blood sugar levels close to normal most of the time among children can dramatically reduce risk of developing any complications. Complications relating to Type 1 diabetes develop gradually. These diabetic complications can often be disabling or life-threatening in children whose blood sugar levels are not well-controlled.

  • Heart & Blood Vessel DiseaseRisk of various cardiovascular problems dramatically increase with Type 1 diabetes in children. These include atherosclerosis which is narrowing of arteries, stroke, heart attack, angina or chest pain & High Blood Pressure later in life.
  • Neuropathy or Nerve DamageWalls of tiny blood vessels or capillaries which nourish nerves can injure with excessive sugar, especially those in leg region among children. This condition may cause pain, burning, numbness or tingling. This type of nerve damage generally happens gradually over extended periods of time.
  • Nephropathy or Kidney DamageTiny blood vessel clusters of kidneys which filter waste from blood can damage due to diabetes in children. Severe damage to these numerous vessels can lead to irreversible end-stage kidney disease or kidney failure which will eventually require dialysis or Kidney Transplant as treatment in future.
  • Damage to EyesType 1 diabetes among children can cause diabetic retinopathy or damage blood vessels in retina or blindness. This can lead to cataracts & greater risk of Glaucoma.
  • Foot DamagePoor blood flow to feet or nerve damage in this region increase risk of various foot complications in children. Cuts & blisters can turn to serious infections when Type 1 diabetes is left untreated.
  • Skin DisordersType 1 diabetes may leave children more susceptible to a variety of skin problems including itching, fungal infections & bacterial infections.
  • OsteoporosisType 1 diabetes may lead to lower than normal bone mineral density among children & eventually increase risk of osteoporosis as adults.

Type 1 Diabetes Tests & Diagnosis

On suspicion of diabetes among children, doctors usually recommend them to undergo screening tests. Doctors will also run blood tests to check for auto-antibodies when children are diagnosed with Diabetes. Auto-antibodies are common in Type 1 diabetes & therefore help doctors distinguish between Type 1 & Type 2 diabetes. Presence of Ketones, which are byproducts from breakdown of fats, in urine of children also suggest Type 1 diabetes rather than Type 2 diabetes. Primary tests utilized to diagnose Type 1 diabetes in children include the following.

  • Random Blood Sugar TestBlood samples are randomly taken for this test. Blood sugar values expressed through this test are in milligrams per deciliter or millimoles per liter. Random blood sugar level of 200mg/dL or more suggests diabetes regardless of when the child last ate. Other tests are often performed when random blood sugar tests prove negative & doctors still suspect diabetes in children.
  • Glycated Hemoglobin Test (A1C)This test indicates average blood sugar levels for the past 2 – 3 months. Glycated hemoglobin works by measuring percentage of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin which is the oxygen carrying protein in red blood cells. Higher blood sugar levels here indicate more hemoglobin with attached sugar. A1C levels of 6.5 percent or more, on two separate tests indicate diabetes in children.
  • Fasting Blood Sugar TestThese blood samples are taken on overnight fasting. Fasting blood sugar levels which are less than 100mg/dL are considered normal. Fasting blood sugar levels between 100 – 125 mg/dL are considered pre-diabetic. Levels 126mg/dL or more on two separate tests confirm that the child is having Type 1 diabetes condition.

After Diagnosing Type 1 Diabetes in Children

Children will have to regularly visit doctors so as to ensure good diabetic management after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Doctors will also check A1C levels of children during these visits. Target A1C goal may however vary depending upon the age & various other factors concerning children. In comparison with repeated daily blood sugar tests, A1C testing will better indicate the efficacy of the prescribed diabetes treatment plan. Elevated A1C levels will however signal need for change in meal plan or insulin regimen of children. Doctors will also periodically check liver function, thyroid function, cholesterol levels, kidney-function using blood & urine samples & periodical test for celiac disease in addition to performing A1C tests. Doctors will also examine children so as to assess growth & high blood pressure along with checking sites where blood sugar tests & insulin delivery were performed in children.

Preventing Type 1 Diabetes in Children

There is practically nothing as of now that we could have done so as to prevent occurrence of Type 1 diabetes in children. Tests can however be done to find out if any antibodies associated with Type 1 diabetes are present. But presence of these antibodies does not certainly mean that diabetes will occur. Presently, there is no known procedure to prevent Type 1 diabetes even if these antibodies were found. While there is almost nothing we could have done to prevent diabetes in children, we could however help prevent any complications arising due to Type 1 diabetes by helping them maintain proper blood sugar control as much as possible. Additionally, ensure to schedule regular visits to diabetes doctors & undergo annual eye examination beginning as early as 5 years after initial diagnosis of diabetes. Moreover, children with Type 1 diabetes should eat healthy diets made up of whole grains, vegetables & fruits & regularly participate in physical activities which help keep hearts healthy.

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