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What are the signs of type 1 diabetes in children?

If you suspect your child may have diabetes, book an appointment with your family doctor or paediatrician.

In light of World Diabetes Day (14 November), we look at Type 1 diabetes in children.

Type 1 diabetes is when your child’s body stops producing a critical hormone (insulin). Because your child requires insulin to survive, the missing insulin must be replaced through injections or an insulin pump. Type 1 diabetes in children was previously referred to as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes.

A child’s diagnosis of type 1 diabetes can be frightening, especially at first. Depending on your child’s age, you and your child will be forced to learn how to administer injections, count carbohydrates, and monitor blood sugar.

The good news is that while type 1 diabetes in children cannot be cured, it can be managed. Blood sugar monitoring and insulin delivery advances have improved blood sugar control and quality of life for children with type 1 diabetes.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children

Type 1 diabetes symptoms in children typically appear quickly and may include:

  • Insatiable thirst
  • In a toilet-trained child, frequent urination and possibly bedwetting
  • Unexplained hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Irritation or behavioural changes
  • Sweet-smelling breath

If you notice any signs or symptoms of type 1 diabetes in your child, contact your family doctor or child’s paediatrician.

What causes type 1 diabetes in children?

In most children with type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system, which normally fights harmful bacteria and viruses, destroys insulin-producing (islet) cells in the pancreas by mistake. Both genetic and environmental factors appear to influence this process..

When the pancreatic islet cells are destroyed, your child produces little or no insulin. Insulin is in charge of transporting sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream to the cells of the body for energy.

When food is digested, sugar enters the bloodstream. Sugar accumulates in your child’s bloodstream when insulin levels are low. If left untreated, this can lead to life-threatening complications.

Although type 1 diabetes is most common in children, the condition can occur at any age.

You can help your child avoid diabetes complications by doing the following:

  • Working as closely as possible with your child to maintain good blood sugar control.
  • Instilling in your child the importance of a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
  • Making regular appointments with your child’s diabetes healthcare provider.

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