Type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age. Classic symptoms of T1D in children can resemble the flu and may include extreme thirst, frequent urination, and rapid weight loss.

Approximately 1.9 million Americans have type 1 diabetes (T1D) including 244,000 children, and these numbers continue to rise. This chronic disease can be dangerous if not immediately diagnosed, possibly leading to coma and death.

The warning symptoms of T1D can closely resemble viruses such as the flu. The resemblance makes it more difficult for parents to recognize the symptoms of T1D. According to a 2010 study, about 1 in 4 children experience dangerously high blood sugar and ketone levels at the time of diagnosis.

This article will explain the warning symptoms, signs, and treatments for T1D in children and what products may help children manage this autoimmune condition.

T1D is a chronic and incurable autoimmune disease in which the immune system has attacked and destroyed the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, resulting in the body’s inability to make insulin. This hormone is needed for the body’s cells to absorb glucose from the food you eat. Without it, sugar (glucose) can’t enter the body’s cells, and it remains in the bloodstream.

T1D symptoms often mimic those of viruses like the flu, but the telltale symptoms of T1D include:

  • extreme thirst
  • frequent urination
  • dry mouth
  • fatigue and lethargy
  • headache
  • achy muscles
  • blurry vision
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fruity-smelling breath
  • confusion
  • weakness
  • abdomen (belly) pain
  • unexplained weight loss

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms of high blood sugar, calling a doctor, 911, or local emergency services is advised to quickly deal with the symptoms before they become dangerous.

Prompt diagnosis can help prevent diabetes ketoacidosis (DKA), which can occur after prolonged high blood sugar and severe dehydration and can lead to high production of ketones, causing your blood to turn acidic. DKA can be fatal if not treated quickly with intravenous fluids and insulin to regulate blood sugar.

Diabetes development at any age

You can develop T1D at any age. Although this autoimmune condition was once referred to as “juvenile diabetes” because it was thought to affect children more often, the term is outdated and no longer applies to T1D. More than half of new T1D diagnoses happen in adults.

Aside from T1D, there are also other main forms of diabetes that can develop at different ages, such as type 2 diabetes and latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA).

  • Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t use insulin correctly. It often affects adults and is often linked to obesity and lifestyle factors, though research shows it’s also a genetic disease. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed without insulin. Pills or other injectable medications as well as lifestyle changes are often suggested.
  • LADA: Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) is more similar to T1D and may also not require insulin at first. Over time LADA can develop into T1D, requiring insulin injections or insulin pump delivery.
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Researchers don’t know exactly what causes T1D.

Many believe that a virus can “trigger” the body into attacking its own immune system and killing off the insulin-making cells in the pancreas.

A 2018 study found that children exposed to enteroviruses are more likely to develop T1D. Enteroviruses are a group of viruses that usually cause mild symptoms, similar to that of the common cold.

Genetics may also play a role. For T1D to develop, children may have to inherit risk factors from both parents or experience a combination of both genetic risk factors and an environmental trigger such as a viral infection.

Genetic screening for type 1 diabetes

If you have close family members, especially siblings, who already have T1D, you can be tested to see if you have the genetic markers for the disease.

These tests measure antibody response to insulin, the islet cells of the pancreas, or an enzyme called “glutamic acid decarboxylase.”

A high level of antibody response indicates that a person has a higher likelihood of developing T1D in the future, but it’s not a guarantee that they will.

You can ask a doctor about getting these tests done if you’re at a higher risk of developing T1D.

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With careful management of blood sugar levels, children can expect to live a long and normal life with T1D.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes recent estimates that show life expectancy can range from 65 to 72 years. With advances in diabetes technology, people’s quality of life with diabetes is better than ever.

People with diabetes graduate high school, go to and graduate from college, get married, have full careers and hobbies, start families, take vacations, hike mountains, and live full and complete lives.

Products that can help kids, teenagers, and adults manage their T1D have evolved through the years.

Upon diagnosis of T1D, many children are advised to manually check their blood sugar with a fingerstick glucose meter several times a day and before all meals. They’ll also learn how to dose and deliver insulin with multiple daily injections (MDI) using a glass insulin vial and syringe or a prefilled insulin pen.

Instead of injecting insulin, many also have the option to use a device known as an insulin pump. An insulin pump is a small, wearable device that delivers insulin into your body.

Instead of injecting insulin with a syringe or plastic insulin pen each time, a tiny cannula goes under your skin for 2 or 3 days to deliver insulin as you need it throughout the day for food and higher blood sugar corrections. These devices have been more commonly used since the 1990s and have grown in popularity through the years.

Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), which have been around since the mid-2000s, can help you track your blood sugar levels. Instead of a fingerstick that takes a droplet of blood and shows your blood sugar at that one moment in time, CGMs use a sensor that goes under the top layer of skin.

The monitor measures your glucose levels continuously in a more complete picture of your diabetes management and what direction your glucose levels are heading.

Many insulin pumps and CGMs talk to each other as a system for better management.

Diabetes technology isn’t for everyone, and sticking with manually testing your blood sugars and MDI is also perfectly fine and works well for many.

T1D can develop at any age, but this autoimmune condition is often diagnosed in children. The disease isn’t connected to lifestyle or eating choices.

T1D symptoms may mimic viruses such as the flu. Classic symptoms of T1D in children include extreme thirst, frequent urination, and rapid weight loss. The exact cause of T1D is unknown, but it’s thought to be a combination of genetic risk factors and environmental triggers.

Children with T1D can live perfectly normal lives, and diabetes technology such as insulin pumps and CGMs can help make diabetes management less burdensome.