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Diagnosing Diabetes

I often see parents who come in worried that their child might have diabetes. I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss the symptoms of type 1 diabetes,...

I often see parents who come in worried that their child might have diabetes. I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss the symptoms of type 1 diabetes, which was previously known as juvenile onset diabetes. 

While there is much in the news about type 2 diabetes, which is typically related to childhood obesity, the mystery of type 1 diabetes has not yet been totally elucidated. Type 1 diabetes affects about 1 in 400 children and adolescents. There does seem to be a genetic predisposition (certain genes are being identified) to the disease and then “something” seems to trigger the development of diabetes. Researchers continue to look at viral triggers, or environmental triggers (such as cold weather as diabetes is more common in colder climates). Early diet may play a role as well, as there is a lower incidence of diabetes in children who were breast fed and who started solid foods after 6 months of age.   

In type 1 diabetes the pancreas does not produce enough ( or any) insulin. Insulin is needed to help sugars (glucose) in the diet to enter cells to produce energy.  Without insulin the body cannot make enough energy and the glucose levels in the blood stream become elevated which leads to numerous problems. Children with type 1 diabetes are often fairly sick by the time they are diagnosed.  

The most common symptoms of type 1 diabetes are extreme thirst (while all kids drink a lot this is over the top thirst) frequent urination ( sometimes seen as new onset bedwetting with excessive daytime urination as well), excessive hunger,  and despite eating all of the time, weight loss and fatigue.  

Any time a child complains of being thirsty or seems to have to go the bathroom a lot, a parent (including me) worries about diabetes. But, this is not just being thirsty or having a few extra bathroom breaks or wetting the bed one night. The symptoms worsen and persist and you soon realize that your child is also losing weight and not feeling well. 

Although diabetes is currently not curable, great strides have been made in caring for diabetics and improving their daily life. I now have children who are using insulin pumps and one mother has had an islet cell transplant. The research being done is incredible, and hopefully there will one day be a cure. 

In the meantime, try not to  worry every time your child tells you they are thirsty or tired, as all kids will complain about these symptoms from time to time.  But do watch for ongoing symptoms.  

Lastly, eating sugar DOES NOT cause type 1 diabetes. Now it may lead to weight gain which can lead to type 2 diabetes....but that is another story. 

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About Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award winning pediatrician and medical editor for www.kidsdr.com.  She is a native of Washington, D.C. who travelled south to attend the University of Texas at Austin and never left.Read More

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