What Is Childhood Diabetes?

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I know, I know. Yes, this is another article about type 1 diabetes. That is because this is such an important topic and there are still so many people who don’t understand what is childhood diabetes as it used to be called.

I very clearly remember the day our grandson, Alex, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. As a family we were terrified, we didn’t have any idea how to care for his diabetes.

Now, here we are almost 2 years into this journey and while we are still learning and evolving we are so much more confident that we can effectively manage Alex’s diabetes.

According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020 around 210,000 children and teenagers under the age of 20 years living in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is much more common in young people than type 2 diabetes, so it used to be called juvenile (childhood) diabetes. Unfortunately, the rates of both types in young people are increasing

Were you aware that in 2014-2015 alone, doctors diagnosed type 1 diabetes in around 18,291 young people between the age of 10 -19 years and type 2 diabetes in 5,758 young people?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that each year, rates of type 2 diabetes are rising by 1.8% and type 2 diabetes is rising by4.8%.

The fact that people with diabetes are at higher risk of developing other health risks throughout their lives makes these statistics alarming.

This is why it is so important for people to understand childhood diabetes and know what symptoms to be aware of in the young people closest to you.

What is diabetes?

When we eat food, our bodies break down that food into glucose and other nutrients we need which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.

The glucose level in the blood rises after a meal and triggers the pancreas to make insulin (a hormone) and release it into the bloodstream.

People with diabetes either can’t make or can’t respond to insulin properly.

Insulin works like a key that opens the doors to cells and lets the glucose in.

Without insulin, glucose can’t get into the cells and it remains in the bloodstream.

This means the level of sugar in the blood remains higher than normal.

High blood sugar levels are a problem because they can cause a significant number of health problems.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disorder because the body’s own immune system attacks and kills the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.What Is Childhood Diabetes? - diabetes supplies

When this occurs you can no longer produce enough or any insulin. You need insulin to survive, therefore the missing insulin will have to be replaced either by injection or pump.

There is no cure for type 1 diabetes but it can be effectively managed and you can continue to lead a relatively healthy productive life.

The treatment of type 1 diabetes involves lifelong insulin, blood sugar monitoring, diet and exercise management to help keep blood sugar levels within the targeted range.

With Alex, we closely monitor his blood sugar levels and correct any highs or lows before they become serious.

We carefully calculate his Insulin to Carbohydrate ratio(ICR) at each meal and administer his fast-acting insulin each meal.

He is also given his long-acting insulin each evening at bedtime.

Yes, that is four injections a day minimum every single day of his life with no exceptions.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is NOT an autoimmune disorder and means your body does not effectively respond to insulin causing blood sugars to rise above normal levels.

Until recently, almost no children or youth got type 2 diabetes which is why it was referred to as adult-onset diabetes.

However, in recent years about one-third of American youth are overweight, a problem closely related to the increase in kids with type 2 diabetes.

When people are overweight (especially excess belly fat), they are more likely to have insulin resistance, including kids. Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

As we learned above, insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, that acts like a key to let blood sugar into cells for use as energy. Due to heredity, or poor lifestyle choices, cells can stop responding normally to insulin. This causes the pancreas to make more insulin to try to get cells to respond and take in sugar.

As long as enough insulin is produced, blood sugar levels remain normal. Eventually, the pancreas can’t keep up and blood sugars start to rise. Initially, this will be after meals but it won’t be long before it is all the time. The stage is now set for type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes

The symptoms of  both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes can include:

  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination (possible bed-wetting in a potty-trained child)
  • extreme hunger
  • unintentional weight loss
  • fatigue
  • irritability or mood/behaviour changes
  • fruity-smelling breath

If you recognize any of these symptoms in you or your child be sure to seek medical advice.

Thankfully our daughter recognized the symptoms in her son, Alex and got to the doctor right away.

Diabetes treatment


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There is no cure for Type 1 Diabetes and for this reason people who have Type 1 must take insulin injections regularly.

Some people take regular injections into the soft tissue and some use insulin pumps to deliver a steady amount of insulin.

Your doctor will determine which method is best for each patient.

Blood sugar monitoring is an essential part of managing Type 1 Diabetes because blood glucose levels can change quickly.

Type 2 Diabetes can be controlled and sometimes even reversed with diet and exercise alone. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough the doctor will prescribe medications to help the body use insulin more effectively.

The only way to know if you are meeting your target ranges is through blood glucose monitoring. The doctor will determine how frequently you should monitor the blood glucose levels. If blood sugars remain too high the doctor may recommend insulin injections.

With careful monitoring, you can get your blood sugar levels back to normal and prevent the development of serious complications.

Diet

Soon after diagnosis, your doctor will likely recommend you work with an experienced dietitian to determining the optimal diet for you based on your particular needs.

It is important you work closely with your dietitian and follow their recommendations exactly to ensure you are getting the nutrition your body needs.

If you have type 2 diabetes, your dietitian can help you lose weight which may either reduce or eliminate the need for medications.

Type 1 diabetics will need to learn to count their carbs and calculate insulin dosage. work closely with your health care team as you learn to do this.

Exercise

Regular exercise is another important part of diabetes management.

It can aid in weight loss or healthy weight management as well as boost heart health.

You can start with just a simple 10 -15 minute walk each day and build up from there.

Always follow your doctor’s advice on what types of exercise are more suitable for you.

Type 1 diabetics will need to check their blood sugars before, during and after exercise especially if that exercise is strenuous.

Regular sleep

The amount and quality of sleep you get can impact blood sugar levels.\Try for the recommended 7 -8 hours.

If you have difficulty sleeping there a few things you can try:

  • establish a regular bedtime (go to bed and wake up at the same time every day)
  • limit caffeine for several hours prior to bedtime
  • limit screen time 2 hours prior to going to bed
  • try reading a paper book

Alex has his regular bedtime routine where he has a relaxing bath, then snack, brush teeth, long-lasting insulin shot then he hops into bed for storytime where we read together taking turns reading. This works very well and he falls asleep easily.

When he is here I get up several times in the night to check his blood sugars and only wake him if he is low and needs some juice or a snack.

Complications of diabetesWhat Is Childhood Diabetes? heart

It is commonly known that diabetes can affect the major organs of your body which is why it is so important to follow your diabetes management plan and keep those blood sugar as close to the target range as possible. Doing so can greatly reduce the risk of developing many complications.

Just as the symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are similar so are the complications which can include any of the following health problems.

Heart and Blood vessel disease

Diabetes greatly increases the risk of developing conditions such as narrowed blood vessels, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke later in life.

Nerve damage

Excessively high blood sugars can damage the walls of the tiny blood vessels that nourish the nerves. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain. Nerve damage usually occurs gradually over a long period of time.

Kidney damage

Diabetes has been known to damage the numerous blood vessel clusters that filter waste from your blood.

Eye damage

Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina, which may lead to vision problems or blindness.

Osteoporosis

It is also possible for diabetes to lead to lower than normal bone density, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis as an adult.

Hyperglycemia

When blood sugars are too high it is called hyperglycemia.

The longer blood sugars are left too high the higher the risk of developing complications.

If those blood sugars are left high for too long diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) can occur which is a serious complication of type 1 diabetes.

DKA occurs when blood sugar levels are left high for too long and the blood develops ketones (toxic acids). These ketones significantly increase the risk of serious complications.

A type 1 diabetic would treat high blood sugars with insulin.

There have been times when we would have to give Alex an extra injection because his sugars were running too high and did not come down with his mealtime dose.

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugars are too low.

Mild to moderate hypoglycemia can be treated at home by eating fast-acting sugar snacks such as glucose tabs, fruit juice or candy.

We have found that apple juice or skittles works very well for Alex.

Eat or drink 15g of fast-acting carbs then test your levels after 15 minutes.

If they have not begun to rise then have another 15 g and again test after 15 minutes.

Continue this process until blood sugars start to rise.

What about at school?

Alex was only 4 when he was diagnosed so his parents had a few months to learn how to manage his diabetes before he started kindergarten in the fall.

Prior to his starting school, a meeting was arranged with a diabetes educator to instruct the teachers and principal on how to care for Alex while he is at school.

They had another meeting to teach his grade 1 teacher this year.

Our daughter makes Alex’s lunch at home and writes down the carb count for his meal and calculates his ratio. This way if Alex eats all his lunch it is pretty simple to administer the injection of insulin. If he does not eat all his carbs the teachers will have to estimate how much he ate and make the best estimate of the dosage.

Do they always get it right? No, but then neither do we or his parents. Sometimes we miscalculate and give him a little too much insulin, then his sugars go too low and we need to give him a snack.

Other times we don’t give him enough and have to give him more later.

Managing diabetes is always a balancing act and it is never an exact science.

Final thoughts

Understanding what is childhood diabetes is important because of the dramatic rise in recent years.

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence which is why it used to be called childhood or juvenile diabetes.

There is no cure for type 1 diabetes and the person will have to take insulin either by injection or pump for the rest of their lives.

By eating a healthy nutrient-rich diet, daily exercise and adequate sleep many type 1 diabetics can go on to lead healthy, happy lives.

Type 2 diabetes is also on the rise and is now being diagnosed in children, mainly due to the rise in childhood obesity.

A healthy diet and regular exercise will also help type 2 diabetics. In fact, often this can result in weight loss and in some cases reversal of diabetes and no longer requiring diabetes medications.

Whichever type of diabetes you may have, it is important to always follow the advice of your diabetes care team.

I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences. We are affiliates, this means that if you purchase something from a link or ad on this site we may receive a small commission. This in no way affects the price you pay.

Do you or someone you know have diabetes?

Type 1 or type 2?

How do you manage your diabetes?

Do you have any advice for others on this journey?

Share your answers in the comment section below and check below for savings on diabetes supplies.


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6 thoughts on “What Is Childhood Diabetes?”

  1. Hi Deborah,  Just finished reading.  Funny enough I also did a post about diabetes on my own website today.  I didn’t know that Type 1 was more common in children but it is called Juvenile Diabetes apparently.  I suppose it makes sense really with how different it is to type 2.  Anyway, you have done a very good job covering the information you have.  I also like your disclaimer at the end.  I think I may have to try this myself.  Keep up the good work  👍

    Alex

    Reply
    • Hi Alex, thanks for dropping by.

      I first heard about Juvenile diabetes when an old boyfriend had it back in the early1980’s but didn’t take the time to really learn about it (I was only a teenager)at the time. 

      When my mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes I lived on the other side of the country to her and didn’t see her often, unfortunately. Again I didn’t really learn about it.

      When our grandson was diagnosed I took an interest because we were used to having many sleepovers with him and his sisters. We wanted that to continue and so it was essential to learn how to care for him.

      What is your website, I am always interested in learning what others have to say. You may teach me a few things.

      I strongly believe having a medical disclaimer is very important. I would hate it for someone to take something I wrote literally and make changes to their treatment plan without consulting their doctor first. It could have devastating effects.

      Good luck with your site and thanks again for commenting.

      Reply
  2. One of my best friends has a child with Type 1 diabetes and I have learned quite a bit from them about the disease and how challenging it can be to manage. Fortunately, the technology to test blood sugar levels and administer insulin has come a long way in recent decades, so hopefully that can allow for better management and quality of life. 

    It’s important to stay informed of current research as treatments continue to improve – thanks for sharing all this information to help foster that sense of community!

    Reply
    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Aly. 

      It always breaks my heart to hear of another child struggling with type 1, it is very time-consuming.

      You are so correct that the technological advances in recent years are truly amazing.

      Our grandson wears a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) which significantly reduces the number of finger pokes in a day.

      My daughter informed me last night that our grandson is now awaiting approval from their insurance company in order for him to start using an insulin pump.

      That will be a whole new learning curve for us as a family as we learn to trust that technology to properly administer his insulin.

      For Alex, going from a minimum of 4 needles a day to changing the pump site once every 3-days will be a big change.

      Stay tuned as we share our adventures learning to live with and program an insulin pump.

      Take care.

      Reply
  3. Thank you for the amazing education I got form here. I have dealt and I am dealing with diabetes in my mom’s life and  should say, it has really been hectic. Hence I can only imagine how challenging it can be in the child’s life. I should say as a grand parent you are doing a great job, you are a blessing to him and the parents.

    Reply
    • Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

      I am sorry to hear about your Mom’s diabetes. My mother also had type 2 diabetes but unfortunately, she did not follow her doctor’s recommendations and we lost her several years ago.

      Your mother is fortunate to have you caring for her, I am sure you are doing a great job.

      You are correct dealing with diabetes can be quite time-consuming making life hectic. In time, you become better able to fit diabetes care into your daily life.

      We have found it has just become routine now and we are still able to do all the things we have always done.

      If you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are always willing to help or share our experiences.

      Best wishes to you and your Mom.

      Reply

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