Perhaps you know a child who always has a snack during a football game or goes to the school nurse before lunch to get a shot.
You are not alone if you have a friend or classmate like this or who sounds like you. Thousands of children worldwide do things like this every day because they have type 1 diabetes.
This article describes the basics of type 1 diabetes and how to deal with it in childhood.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that affects the way the body uses glucose, a sugar that is the body’s primary source of fuel. The body of both children and adults uses glucose to continue to function and to provide energy to all body systems. This is how it should work typically:
- 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.
- Low blood sugar
If someone has diabetes, the body cannot make insulin, or the insulin does not work in the body as it should. Glucose cannot enter cells typically, so the blood sugar level rises too high. Too much sugar in the blood makes people sick without treatment.
Type 1 diabetes is the most common 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 cannot make insulin. In most cases, this is due to an immune impairment, 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, making the blood sugar level very high and causing health problems.
A person with type 1 diabetes must receive regular insulin injections or an insulin pump to fix the problem.
Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin, but it does not work in the body as it should.
No one knows 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 and function that parents pass on to their children.
It is considered that if one of the parents has type 1 diabetes, it can appear in a child with a probability of about 1 in 20. If both parents have diabetes, the chance 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 appearance.
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 people first have diabetes, they usually have the following symptoms:
- Urinate a lot – because the body tries to get rid of excess sugar in the blood by expelling it through the urine (pee)
- Drink a lot – to make up for all that urination and not get dehydrated
- Overeating – because the body is hungry for energy it cannot get from sugar
- Losing weight – as the body begins to use fat and muscle for fuel because it cannot use sugar normally
- Fatigue – because the body cannot use carbohydrates for energy
Getting diabetes treatment can prevent these symptoms from appearing. A doctor can test a child’s blood to determine if they have diabetes.
If your doctor thinks you might have type 1 diabetes, they may ask you to see a pediatric endocrinologist, a 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 like other children. Although children without diabetes should pay a little more attention to what they eat and do.
Sometimes, children with diabetes will have to do extraordinary things, like eat 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.
Some considerations for children with type 1 diabetes:
- Receive insulin as prescribed by your doctor
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with accurate carbohydrate counts
- Check blood sugar levels regularly
- Exercising regularly
What else do I need to know?
While this may sound like a lot of work, the good news is that new diabetic products and equipment can help children manage their 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 get insulin into the body without injections. And there is hope that one day a cure will be found.
Although children with diabetes have some unique things to do, that doesn’t stop them from making love. They can still play sports, hang out with their friends, and go on trips. So if you have a friend with diabetes, let him know that he can deal with it. Being friends is about having fun together, not having a perfect pancreas!