This article describes the basics of type 1 diabetes and how to deal with it in childhood.
Perhaps you know a kid who always eats a snack during a football game or goes see the school nurse before lunch to get a shot.
If you have a friend who has a kid like this, or this sounds like your child, you are not alone. Thousands of children around the world do things like this every day because they suffer from type 1 diabetes.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that affects the way the body uses glucose, a type of sugar that is the body’s main source of fuel. The body of both children and adults uses glucose to continue to function, and to provide energy to all bodily systems. This is how it should normally work:
- You eat a meal
- Blood sugar rises
- The pancreas releases a hormone called insulin
- Insulin helps glucose enter the cells of the body.
- Your cells get the energy they need.
- Blood sugar decreases
If someone has diabetes, their body is not able to produce insulin or the insulin does not work in the body as it should. Glucose cannot enter cells normally, so blood sugar levels rise too much. Too much sugar in the blood makes people sick if they do not get treatment.
Type 1 diabetes is the most common type in children
The two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2.
In type 1 diabetes (which used to be called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes), the pancreas is not able to produce insulin. In most cases, this is due to an immune disorder; where the cells of the immune system attack a particular type of cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin.
As a result, while the body can still obtain glucose from food, glucose cannot enter cells where it is needed. Glucose remains in the blood, which makes the blood sugar levels very high and causes health issues.
To fix the problem, a person with type 1 diabetes must receive regular insulin injections or carry an insulin pump.
Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin, but insulin does not work in the body as it should.
No one knows for sure what causes type 1 diabetes, but scientists think it has something to do with genes. Genes are like instructions for how the body should look like and function, which parents pass on to their children.
If one of the parents has type 1 diabetes, it can develop in a child with a probability of approximately 1 in 20. If both parents have diabetes, then the probability increases to 1 in 4, that is, up to 25%. (2)
But generally, getting the “diabetes genes” is not enough. For a person to develop type 1 diabetes, something else has to happen, such as contracting a viral infection or some environmental factor that promotes its onset.
Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, and there are still no treatments to cure it completely, and no procedures to predict who will get it.
What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?
When diabetes appears, people usually show the following symptoms:
- Excessive urination- because the body tries to get rid of excess sugar in the blood by expelling it through the urine.
- Thirst – to make up for all that urination and not get dehydrated.
- Overeating – because the body is hungry for energy that cannot get from sugar.
- Weight loss – as the body begins to use fat and muscle for fuel because it cannot use sugar regularly
- Fatigue – because the body cannot use carbohydrates for energy.
Getting treatment for diabetes can prevent these symptoms from appearing. A doctor can do blood tests on a child to find out if he/she has diabetes.
If your doctor thinks your child might have type 1 diabetes, they may ask you to see a doctor called a pediatric endocrinologist, a type of doctor who helps children with diabetes, growth problems, and more.
How does a child with type 1 diabetes live?
Children with type 1 diabetes can do the same activities and live as any other kid. Although they should pay a little more attention to what they eat and do than children without diabetes.
Children with diabetes will have to do particular things sometimes, like eating a snack during a long school trip. Or they may have to get up earlier than everyone else to take their insulin and eat breakfast to keep their blood sugar levels under control.
A few considerations for children with type 1 diabetes:
- The need to receive insulin as prescribed by their doctor
- They should eat a healthy, balanced diet with accurate carbohydrate servings
- They need to have their blood sugar levels checked on a regular basis
- They have to exercise regularly
What else do I need to know?
Although this may seem like a lot of work, the good news is that new diabetic products and equipment can help children cope with diabetes more easily.
Scientists are looking for ways to make it easier to check blood sugar levels and administer insulin. They are also trying to find ways to get insulin into the body without injections. And there is hope that one day a cure will be found.
Although children with diabetes need to take care of some special things, this should not stop them from doing the things they love. They can still play sports, hang out with their friends, and go on trips. So if you have a kid with diabetes, let him/her know that it will be okay.
Date: March 17th, 2021
By: Gonzalo Paredes
Type 1 Diabetes: What Is It?. https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/type1.html
Learn the Genetics of Diabetes, https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/genetics-diabetes
Nutrigenomics Institute is not responsible for the comments and opinions included in this article