Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to destroy the cells in the pancreas that create insulin.
Insulin is the hormone that signals your blood cells to take up glucose, which regulates blood sugar levels. Without enough insulin, blood sugar levels can become extremely high and cause long-term damage to your body.
According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2012 almost 18,000 children were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
The most common symptoms of type 1 diabetes in kids includes:
Other common symptoms include:
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal pain
- fatigue and weakness
- fruity breath
- poor wound healing
In addition to the symptoms above, young girls may also experience recurring yeast infections.
Type 1 diabetes can be difficult to diagnose in babies and toddlers because of their inability to properly communicate their symptoms.
Frequent diaper changes in your infant may indicate increased urination, a common diabetes symptom.
In some babies, a recurring diaper rash that doesn’t go away may be another complication of type 1 diabetes.
If you notice that your toddler is wetting the bed, especially after being potty trained, this could be a symptom of type 1 diabetes.
A sudden loss of appetite in a toddler can also be a sign of undiagnosed diabetes and should be addressed with their pediatrician as soon as possible.
Older kids and teens
If your older child or teenager has mentioned any of the symptoms above, you should take them to see a doctor.
In older children and teens, extreme behavioral changes outside of regular mood changes may be another symptom of this condition.
Type 1 diabetes appears most commonly in childhood between the ages of 4 to 7, and 10 to 14.
If your doctor suspects that your child may have type 1 diabetes, they can use several diagnostic tests to confirm.
The tests to diagnose type 1 diabetes in children (and adults) include:
- Fasting plasma glucose. This test is performed after an overnight fast. During the test, blood is drawn and blood glucose levels are measured. If blood glucose levels are 126 mg/dL or above on two separate blood draws, diabetes is confirmed.
- Random plasma glucose. This test doesn’t require fasting. During the test, blood is drawn at a random time during the day and blood glucose levels are measured. If blood glucose levels are 200 mg/dL or above, and the symptoms of type 1 diabetes are present, diabetes may be confirmed.
- A1C test. The A1C test measures the amount of glycated hemoglobin in the blood, which is hemoglobin that has glucose attached to it. Because the lifespan of hemoglobin is roughly 3 months, this test can give a doctor an idea of average blood sugar levels over a 3-month period. An A1C level of 6.5 percent or above indicates diabetes.
- Islet autoantibodies. In type 1 diabetes, the presence of islet autoantibodies indicates that the body is having an immune system response to the islet cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. While these autoantibodies don’t necessarily cause type 1 diabetes, they have been shown to be a positive marker for the condition.
- Urine ketones. In unmanaged diabetes, high levels of ketones with high blood glucose levels can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening condition. You can test ketone levels at home with a ketone urine test strip. If you notice ketone levels are higher than normal, it’s time to visit a doctor.
If left untreated, type 1 diabetes can lead to hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, and diabetic ketoacidosis. It’s very important to stay on top of the treatment options available if your child has type 1 diabetes.
Insulin is a necessary treatment for type 1 diabetes. There are a few different types of insulin available, including:
- regular, short-acting insulin
- rapid-acting insulin
- immediate-acting insulin
- long-acting insulin
These types of insulin differ in how quickly they work and how long their effects last. Talk with your doctor about the right combination of insulin for your child.
There are two ways to get insulin into the body: insulin injections or an insulin pump.
Insulin injections are administered directly under the skin, multiple times per day, to meet insulin needs as necessary. An insulin pump automatically administers rapid-acting insulin to the body throughout the day.
In addition to insulin administration, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) can also be used separately or as part of an insulin pump. With a CGM, a sensor under the skin continuously tracks blood glucose levels for monitoring. It sends alerts when blood sugar levels become too high or too low.
Dietary management is incredibly important in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.
The most common dietary recommendations for type 1 management are carbohydrate counting and meal timing.
Counting carbohydrates is necessary in order to know how much insulin to administer.
Meal timing can also help keep blood sugar levels stabilized without having them drop too low or go too high.
It’s important to know that people with type 1 diabetes can still eat carbohydrates. However, the focus should be on complex carbohydrates with plenty of fiber, as fiber slows down the absorption of glucose into the body.
Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are great carbohydrate options.
As there’s no cure yet, type 1 diabetes is a condition that requires lifelong monitoring.
If your child has this condition, make sure to keep up with any necessary blood and urine testing they may need.
You should also encourage regular physical activity, which can help to keep blood sugar levels stabilized.
It’s also important to be aware of their blood sugar before, during, and after exercise to make sure it doesn’t go too low.
Receiving a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes can be a scary time for both parent and child. Reaching out to a support system can help you learn healthy coping mechanisms and other suggestions on how to manage this condition.
For extra support, parents can reach out to:
- Mental health professionals. It can be physically and emotionally draining to keep up with the treatment for type 1 diabetes, especially as a parent to a young child with the condition. Mental health professionals can offer a healthy outlet for the stress, anxiety, and other emotions that may come along with being the parent of a child with type 1.
- Social workers. Managing doctors’ visits, prescription refill runs, and the everyday care needed for type 1 diabetes can feel overwhelming. Social workers can help connect parents with resources that may make type 1 diabetes medical care easier.
- Diabetes educators. Diabetes educators are health professionals that specialize in diabetes education, from dietary recommendations to daily disease management and more. Connecting with diabetes educators can help keep parents up to date on the recommendations and research for this condition.
For additional support after a diagnosis, your child may benefit from reaching out to:
- School counselors. School counselors are a great support system for school-aged children, especially those who are coping with medical conditions. Some schools even offer group counseling, so check with your child’s school to see what types of group sessions they offer.
- Support groups. Outside of school, there are support groups that you and your child can attend together in person or online. Children with Diabetes is a nonprofit organization that offers information on camps, conferences, and other diabetes-related events that may benefit your child.
- Early intervention.
Researchhas shown that in adults with type 1 diabetes, emotional support can help to improve overall A1C levels and management of the condition. It’s important to address any mental health issues early-on that may accompany your child’s diabetes, such as depression and anxiety.
If you think your child might have the symptoms of type 1 diabetes, schedule an appointment with a doctor for testing. They’ll review your child’s health history and use some of the diagnostic tests mentioned above to determine if your child has type 1 diabetes.
Unmanaged diabetes can damage the organs and lead to further complications, so it’s important to receive a diagnosis as soon as possible.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that most commonly appears in childhood.
The symptoms for type 1 diabetes in children may include increased hunger and thirst, increased urination, fruity smelling breath, and more.
Although there’s no cure for type 1 diabetes, it can be managed with insulin, dietary management, and lifestyle changes.
If you notice several type 1 diabetes symptoms in your child, schedule an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible.