If you’re a parent, the thought that your active and healthy child could have diabetes is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But it does happen, so it’s important to know the warning signs.
What is diabetes?
“Most of the food we eat is broken down into sugar, or glucose, which our bodies use for energy,” said Samina Yousuf, MD, a pediatrician at OSF HealthCare. “When sugar enters your bloodstream, your pancreas produces insulin, which acts like a key that allows the cells in your body to put that glucose to work.
“However, if a person has Type 1 diabetes, their body has stopped producing insulin. If they have Type 2, their body has become resistant to insulin and doesn’t react to it the way that it should. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to numerous health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, vision problems, nerve damage and even death.”
Who does it impact?
Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in children and young adults and is typically thought to be caused when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells within the pancreas. Type 2 usually develops in adults who are over 40 years old or overweight, but it’s becoming more common in children due to increased obesity rates.
Children diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes are usually around 13-14 years old, but a diagnosis for Type 1 can come much earlier.
What are the symptoms?
“Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes share the same symptoms, but they typically differ in how quickly those symptoms appear,” Dr. Yousuf said. “Type 1 symptoms in children usually happen suddenly – like over the course of a few hours or days. On the other hand, Type 2 symptoms tend to appear gradually over the course of a few years.”
Key symptoms to watch for:
- Extreme fatigue
- Feeling hungry despite eating
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination (including bed wetting by potty-trained kids)
- Weight loss without trying
- Fruity smelling breath
- Irritability or behavior changes
- Blurry vision
- Cuts or bruises that heal slowly
- Very dry skin
- Tingling, pain or numbness in the hands or feet
- Belly (abdominal) pain
Actions for parents to take
“If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, it’s important to call their pediatrician immediately and take them in to have their blood glucose level checked right away,” Dr. Yousuf said. “A simple blood test will determine if diabetes is the cause.”
If diabetes is diagnosed, it’s important to follow the doctor’s instructions for monitoring the child’s blood sugar levels, taking the prescribed medications, eating a healthy diet and getting proper exercise.
While there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 accounts for the vast majority of diabetes cases and can sometimes be reversed through a good diet and exercise regimen.