Childhood diabetes – Causes, symptoms and treatment

Diabetes is a condition which is usually believed to occur only in adults, but the truth is that it can occur in children too. In childhood diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce any insulin which is normally required for glucose to enter the cells and provide energy to the body.

Childhood diabetes – Causes, symptoms and treatment

Scientists believe that the child’s genetic makeup or hereditary issues are mainly responsible for childhood diabetes. In childhood diabetes, the body’s own immune cells destroy insulin producing cells of the pancreas by mistaking them as foreign and thus trigger the disease.

Symptoms of childhood diabetes

The symptoms of childhood diabetes occur very early and they include excessive thirst, frequent urination, intense hunger, unexpected weight loss, tiredness, mood swings, irritation, weak eyesight and vaginal yeast infection in girls.

Diagnosis of childhood diabetes

  • Blood sugar test: Blood sugar levels can be checked randomly and sugar levels up to 200mg/dL or above correspond to diabetes.
  • Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test: This test measures the hemoglobin attached blood sugar which gives an average blood sugar for the past 2-3 months. An A1C level of 6.5% or higher indicates diabetes.
  • Fasting blood sugar test: After an overnight fast, blood sample may be taken and blood sugar level is checked. Blood sugar level < 100mg/dL is normal; 100-125mg/dL indicates pre-diabetes and more than 125mg/dL is considered as diabetes.
  • Blood test for auto-antibodies: Blood test for auto-antibodies which are common in type 1 diabetes may be done.
  • Urine test: Presence of ketone bodies (a breakdown product of fats) in the urine will be checked by doing a simple urine test.
  • Other test: In addition to the above mentioned tests, a physician can periodically check cholesterol levels, thyroid functions and liver/kidney function tests.

Treatment

Insulin treatment is required for diabetic children according to individual requirements.  Fast acting insulin can be given during the day and slow acting insulin at night. Older children can use continuous insulin pumps. Surgical treatment options include pancreas and islet cell transplantation but both these surgical solutions are associated with serious side effects and are not successful in children.

Complications of childhood diabetes

Continuous elevated blood sugar levels can affect nearly every organ and lead to life threatening complications like:

  • Cardiac problems: Angina pain, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
  • Neuropathy: Damage to nerves and blood capillaries which causes tingling, numbness and pain especially in the legs.
  • Nephropathy: Kidney damage or irreversible kidney disease that requires dialysis or a kidney transplant.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: Damage to the retinal blood vessels which may cause blindness.
  • Osteoporosis: Diabetes decreases bone mineral density, increasing the risk of osteoporosis during adult age.
  • Skin problems: Diabetes may also lead to skin problems like bacterial and fungal infections.

Prevention of childhood diabetes

Nothing could be done to prevent childhood diabetes but serious complications can be prevented by regularly blood sugar monitoring, sticking to healthy eating habits and regular exercise for children, along with proper treatment as guided by the doctors.

Photograph via sxc.hu

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