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Diabetes in Children

What Is Juvenile Diabetes?

Juvenile diabetes is the general term used for diabetes in children. This is to mean diabetes that affects anyone below 18 years of age.

Many people consider juvenile diabetes to be the same as type 1 diabetes in children as it is the most prevalent type, in the young.

According to The Scottish Study Group for the Care of the Diabetes in the Young, 90% of people below 25 years of age with diabetes actually have diabetes.

However, it is wrong to assume that all juvenile diabetes is type 1 considering the increased instances of type 2 diabetes in people younger than 18.

Type 1 Diabetes In Children

Type 1 diabetes is a result of the immune system attacking the beta cells in a child’s pancreas. This results in total insulin deficiency which means that the body is unable to break down sugars.

Sugar must be broken down by insulin so it can fuel the cells and muscles. In the case of children with type 1 diabetes, glucose just builds up in the bloodstream, leading to several complications.

Type 2 Diabetes In Children

Type 2 diabetes was previously associated with adults even going by the name “adult onset” diabetes but it is now on the rise in children. It occurs when insulin isn’t working as it should; to break down glucose.

While the pancreas still produces insulin in children with type 2 diabetes, the cells seem resistant to it, thereby rendering it useless. The pancreas responds by producing less and less of the hormone, which leaves sugars to accumulate in the bloodstream.

Symptoms Of Type 1 Diabetes In Children

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children becomes worse over time. The signs will be subtle at the onset but caregivers will notice an aggravation of the following:

  • Increased thirst. A child will drink more fluids than usual but these will not be enough to quench their thirst.
  • Girls might develop yeast infections.
  • Children will pee more with some even wetting their beds despite being dry before. In toddlers, parents will notice heavier diapers.
  • Children become moody and irritable with this type of juvenile diabetes.
  • Parents will notice that their child is getting more tired than usual from what should be normal activity levels.
  • children with this condition grow thinner despite eating properly.

Symptoms Of Type 2 Diabetes In Children

Type 2 diabetes is a sneaky condition whose symptoms may go unnoticed for years. The symptoms develop slowly but parents should be keen to observe the following warning signs:

  • Itching around the genitals in children of all ages
  • Slow healing of wounds and cuts
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urge to pee especially at night
  • Fatigue
  • Dark patches of skin

Early Signs Of Diabetes In Children

Unfortunately, very few parents are able to identify the early signs of diabetes in their children.

  • Bad breath is often dismissed as a non-issue and it is only 9% of parents (according to a 2012 Diabetes U.K survey) can identify the four early warning signs of type 1 diabetes.
  • The 4 T’s Thirsty, Tired, Toilet, Thinner should worry any parent or caregiver as they are the earliest signs of juvenile type 1 diabetes.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

The worst result of delayed diagnosis is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is the leading cause of mortality in affected children. Without insulin to break down sugars, the body starts producing ketones which become toxic at high levels. Too many ketones in the body make it acidic and this is dangerous as the body should be alkaline.

Diabetic Neuropathy

High blood sugar in children is also the cause of neurological disease due to resulting nerve damage as well as cardiovascular problems (heart attack, angina, stroke) and high blood pressure caused by damage to major blood vessels.

Kidney damage is also likely to occur because diabetes can destroy blood vessels that filter waste. Children with diabetes are at a higher risk of osteoporosis as adults due to lower bone density.

Causes Of Type 1 Diabetes In Children

It is not exactly clear as to what causes type 1 diabetes but many agree it is an autoimmune condition. The immune system mistakenly damages insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. A child with type 1 diabetes produces little or no insulin at all, and this can cause major problems.

Other Possible Causes Of Type 1 Diabetes Include

  • Genetics – Certain genes indicate a higher risk of type 1 diabetes. Children whose parents have the condition are at a higher risk of getting it.
  • Race – There isn’t an explanation why but type 1 diabetes is more common among non-Hispanic, white children compared to other races.
  • Certain viruses – Some viruses may trigger autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing cells.
  • Diet – Early intake of cow’s milk increases the risk of type diabetes.

All these are risk factors and do not mean that your child will inevitably have type 1 diabetes.

Causes Of Type 2 Diabetes In Children

There are several causes of type 2 diabetes in children and even toddlers are predisposed.

  • Obesity – Overweight children have a heightened chance of becoming insulin resistant.
  • Genetics – The risk of a child getting type 2 diabetes increases if a parent has been diagnosed with the same.
  • Inadequate exercise – Children nowadays have become couch potatoes, literally sitting all day and indulging in junk foods. The lack of physical activity makes it easy to accumulate fat around their midsection which is a major cause of diabetes type 2.

Lifestyle choices play a major role in exposing children to type 2 diabetes so parents must make the right decisions to protect their kids of all ages.

Diagnosis Of Juvenile Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes in children may be diagnosed through a random blood sugar test. The doctor will take a blood sample to confirm that it indicates levels below 200 mg/dl. Other tests for diabetes type 1 are the Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test and fasting blood sugar Test.

The tests for type 1 and type 2 diabetes are rather similar so to be sure that it is type 1, the doctor might need to do other tests. They will request urinalysis to check for ketones which are associated with type 1 and do further blood tests to check for antibodies present in people with type 1 diabetes.

Treatment Of Juvenile Diabetes

For kids with type 1 diabetes, the treatment is lifelong. You will need to work closely with the doctor, a dietician and counselor to keep blood sugars as close to normal as possible.

Treating type 1 involves blood sugar monitoring, insulin therapy, and a healthy lifestyle. Caregivers must check a child’s blood sugar levels at least four times a day to ensure that it is in the proper range.


The best treatment for type 1 diabetes is insulin medication. There are many insulin options including rapid-acting versions which start acting in 15 minutes and last for hours.

Parents may also opt for short and intermediate-acting insulin to help their children cope with diabetes. Insulin may be delivered/given using an insulin pen, pump or insulin needle and syringe depending on the child’s age.

The doctor will recommend the appropriate dosage and mode of delivery depending on the child’s age and needs. With type 2 diabetes, children aren’t tied to insulin as they could control the blood sugar by losing weight, other medications, and natural remedies.

Diabetic Diet

Having diabetes doesn’t mean that a child is condemned to a lifetime of bland diabetic diet foods. All they need is an intake of foods high in nutrients but low in calories and fats. Your dietician will recommend fewer animal products and sweets to prevents spikes in blood sugar.

Physical Activity

Whether it is type 1 or 2, all children need regular exercise to keep fit and healthy. As activity lowers blood sugar, keep monitoring the levels to ensure that they are safe. If they are having a low reading, give them a fruit or glucose to bring the levels up to the proper range.