When we think of diabetes, we don’t often think of children having this disease, but it does happen. In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association, almost 18,000 Americans under age 20 are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each year.
People with type 1 diabetes cannot produce a hormone called insulin, which normally regulates blood sugar and enables the body to convert it into energy.
Whitney Brown, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist and director of Palmetto Health-USC Pediatric Endocrinology, said, “The disease can develop at any age and can’t be prevented. We cannot predict who will get it and who will not, though we do know that genetics and environmental factors are involved.”
Dr. Brown urged parents to be on the lookout for these warning signs:
- Frequent urination
- Extreme thirst
- Feeling tired often
- Losing weight or not gaining weight as they grow, in spite of an increased appetite
- A fruity breath odor
- Blurry vision
- Rapid deep breathing
What if my child has type 1 diabetes?
To minimize the symptoms of type 1 diabetes, kids who are affected will need to follow a treatment plan that includes keeping tabs on their blood sugar levels, taking insulin, eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise.
The challenge with kids is making sure they keep up with their prescribed treatment plan. Younger children may not understand why they need tests or why they have to take insulin regularly. Teens may start to feel social pressures to “fit in” and may see their treatment plan as a drag on their ability to have fun.
Because of these reasons, “it’s important to give your child constant encouragement,” said Dr. Brown.
Unfortunately, while a lot of research is underway, there is currently no cure for diabetes. This is not as dire as it may sound, however. Dr. Brown said, “As long as children with the disease continue to follow their prescribed treatment plan, they can expect to feel good and live long, productive lives.”
Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands hosts an informal support group for people affected by type 1 diabetes. The event is sponsored by the Palmetto Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Learn more.