What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes (T1D), previously called juvenile diabetes, develops when the pancreas no longer produces insulin—a necessary hormone to allow the blood sugar (glucose) to pass into cells so that the cells can use it as energy. According to JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), approximately 40,000 new cases of type 1 diabetes occur each year. Type 1 diabetes accounts for five to 10 percent of all diabetes cases in the United States. While T1D can happen at any age, JDRF states it’s most commonly diagnosed somewhere between infancy and late 30s, with the peak age of diagnosis in the US around age 14.
What’s it like to receive a type 1 diabetes diagnosis?
If you have a child who’s been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in his or her childhood, you’re not alone. Chicago mother Beth Bernstein recounts her first thoughts when she learned her 14-year-old daughter had recently developed this type 1 diabetes. “You have to be strong for your children,” Bernstein said. “What do we do? What’s our next steps? I was very linear in my thinking. To see my daughter in so much discomfort and pain...it was horrible.” For Bernstein’s daughter, type 1 diabetes symptoms came without warning. “We couldn’t have prevented this,” she said. “It literally came out of the blue. At first, I felt guilty this had happened to my child, but then I learned there’s nothing we did to cause this.” Knowing the signs of type 1 diabetes in children is critical to control the illness. A child exhibiting symptoms of type 1 diabetes may demonstrate the following:
As the body struggles to maintain adequate fluid levels, a child becomes very thirsty to prevent dehydration.
When glucose levels begin to accumulate, the kidneys try to remove the excess glucose by increasing the frequency and volume of urination. A child will have to urinate often—sometimes around the clock. You may notice new episodes of bedwetting in a child that wasn’t wetting the bed; the kidneys work through the night to eliminate the buildup of glucose.
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Headaches or blurry vision
As blood sugar levels begin to climb out-of-range, some children experience recurrent headaches or periods of blurry vision.
The lack of insulin causes glucose to collect in the blood, as opposed to entering the cells where it’s needed to make energy. Despite having eaten, your child may continue to feel hungry while the cells attempt to get the fuel they need to function.
Again, because the cells can’t access the sugar molecules they need to help provide energy to the body, your child may feel tired.
Unexpected weight loss
The body may begin to break down muscle tissue and fat stores to feed its starving cells, which results in a sometimes drastic, unplanned weight loss.
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Vaginal yeast infections in girls that haven’t reached puberty
Although there are many reasons for a young girl to develop a yeast overgrowth, parents should be aware diabetes is one possibility for these infections to emerge.
Mood swings and irritability
A small, 2007 study by the American Diabetes Association showed children tended to act out more when their blood sugar was elevated. Likewise, parents also reported mood changes and increased irritability when blood sugar ran low.
What’s next after a type 1 diabetes diagnosis?
Though there is no cure for TD1, taking daily insulin via injections or a pump, counting carbohydrates, frequently checking blood sugar levels, eating healthy, and maintaining a healthy weight are vital components to managing this long-term, chronic illness. If you believe your child is showing signs and symptoms of diabetes, please consult your doctor as soon as possible. Once a treatment plan was in place for her daughter, Bernstein felt a flood of emotions as she realized all the challenges her newly diagnosed daughter would face. “To get through each day, we tell ourselves ‘things could be worse.’ This condition is manageable. We’re still figuring out how to manage it.” For parents trying to navigate this illness with their child, Bernstein shares this advice: “Trust your doctors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You must advocate for your child with the doctor and with your school. Talk to your child’s teachers and tell them what to expect every day. Also, a peer support group for both the parents and the child is very important."