Diabetes type 1 in children

Dr Ernst Teichler, Pediatrician, Intercare Silver Lakes

Type 1 diabetes in children can be described as a condition where the child’s pancreas no longer produces the insulin the child needs to stay alive. The lack of insulin needs to be replaced through the administration of insulin.

The diagnosis of type 1 diabetes during childhood is often an overwhelming and devastating experience. The child must learn to cope with injections, monitor blood sugar levels and make dietary and lifestyle changes.

Signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes

If a child experiences any of the following symptoms, the parent should consult a doctor or pediatrician.

  • Insatiable thirst and frequent urination
  • Extreme hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Fungal and Staphylococcal infections

Screening tests used to diagnose diabetes

Different blood tests are available to diagnose and monitor diabetes. A fasting blood sugar test is done after an overnight fast. A blood sugar level of 5.6 mmol/L is normal. Higher blood sugar levels indicate either pre-diabetes levels or confirm that the child suffers from diabetes.

The most valuable test to help diagnose and monitor diabetes is a Glycated Hemoglobin (HbA1C) test. This test indicates an average blood sugar level for the past 2 to 3 months. If this test shows a HbA1C level of 6.5% or higher on two separate occasions, it confirms the diagnosis of diabetes.

Tests that should routinely be done on children suffering from diabetes

Because diabetes can affect many organs in the body, it is very important to detect any problems or indications of damage as early as possible. Your doctor will refer the child at the correct intervals for the following tests:

  • Cholesterol
  • Liver function
  • Thyroid
  • Kidney function
  • Blood pressure
  • Growth
  • Regular eye tests

Types of insulin

Many types of insulin are available and the physician will prescribe the correct type and monitor the dosage that is required.- Rapid acting insulin. It starts working in 15 minutes.
- Short acting insulin. Works in 30 minutes and peaks in 2 to 4 hours.
- Long acting insulin. This type may have an effect for 20 to 26 hours.
- Intermediate acting insulin. Works in 30 minutes and peaks after 4 to 6 hours.

Possible long term complications of type 1 diabetes are:

Heart and blood vessel disease
Nerve damage (Neuropathy)
Kidney damage
Eye damage
Recurring skin infections

Treatment of diabetes type 1 is a lifelong commitment of blood sugar regulation and insulin is the medication that is used in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle. A qualified dietician is invaluable in helping parents with the nutritional requirements of diabetic children. With the help of a committed parent and experienced professionals a child with diabetes type 1 can lead a fulfilling life despite this condition.

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