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Type 1 Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

Dr Rohit Bhaskar
Dr Rohit Bhaskar
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Type 1 diabetes in children, or juvenile diabetes, is a disease that requires lifelong management. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the autoimmune system attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas called beta cells, which produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps sugar, or glucose, enter cells to give them energy.

When there is no insulin, too much sugar stays in the bloodstream. This can lead to a life-threatening condition.

Type 1 Diabetes

How common is type 1 diabetes in children?

In the United States, 13,000 children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes every year.

What are the causes of type 1 diabetes in children?

Glucose comes from food and is the major source of energy for your body. After eating, your body breaks down food into glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream. The glucose level rises, triggering the pancreas to produce insulin and release it into the bloodstream. Type 1 diabetes is a result of the pancreas not producing any insulin. This is due to an autoimmune reaction where the body destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. The causes of type 1 diabetes are still being researched. Possible causes include:

  • Genes (inherited from family)
  • Virus or trigger in the environment

What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children?

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes can appear in a few weeks or months after enough of the pancreas’s beta cells are destroyed. Symptoms can be severe once they appear.

They include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Abnormally thirsty
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent exhaustion
  • Bedwetting
  • Vaginal yeast infection
  • Sores that heal slowly
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Losing feeling in feet or having tingling in feet
  • Blurry eyesight

How is type 1 diabetes in children diagnosed?

Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed by testing blood samples for glucose levels and autoantibodies, which can show if the body is attacking itself. A urine test may be done to check for ketones, which are a result of the body breaking down fat. This happens when the body does not have the insulin to properly use energy the body gets from the food you eat.

How is type 1 diabetes in children managed?

Type 1 diabetes is managed by monitoring glucose levels. In addition, the child will need to:

  • Check blood sugar levels a few times a day
  • Give themselves (or with adult help) insulin injections or use an insulin pump
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet
  • Get regular exercise
  • Manage stress
  • Work closely with healthcare providers and family to control diabetes
  • Follow treatment plan created by healthcare provider
  • Take the A1C blood test to check how well diabetes is being managed

What is the treatment for type 1 diabetes in children?

Treatment for type 1 diabetes is lifelong and requires daily insulin injections or use of an insulin pump. The pump holds a reservoir filled with insulin. Tubing connects the reservoir to the cannula, or tube, which is inserted just under the skin. The pump is worn outside the body on a belt or pocket. These treatments help to control blood glucose levels.

What are the risk factors/complications in children who have type 1 diabetes?

If early signs of diabetes are not noticed and treatment is delayed, ketones can build up in the blood and cause:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fruity-smelling breath
  • Breathing problems
  • Loss of consciousness

Long-term complications include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Vision impairment
  • Kidney damage
  • Loss of fingers, toes
  • Loss of teeth

How can type 1 diabetes be prevented in children?

Currently there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes, or predict who will be diagnosed with the disease.

What is the outlook for children living with type 1 diabetes?

There is no cure for diabetes. Monitoring glucose levels and administering insulin must be done to avoid life-threatening conditions. With proper care, exercise, nutrition, and blood glucose management, a child can live a successful, normal life with no limitations on activities.

When do I call the healthcare provider for a child who has type 1 diabetes?

Call the doctor if the child is:

  • Ill with a fever, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Suffering from a significant injury
  • Needs surgery
  • Prescribed with new medication
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