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Understanding Pediatric Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms, & Management

Are you concerned that your child might have diabetes? Understanding pediatric diabetes is extremely important, especially since diabetes affects over 283,000 children and adolescents in the U.S.

The majority of children that suffer from this chronic disease have Type 1 diabetes. However, in recent years, Type 2 diabetes in children has increased dramatically.

Keep reading to get a better understanding about diabetes in children and how you can manage your child’s symptoms.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a medical condition where blood sugar levels are too high either in a fasting state and or after eating.

If these levels continue to stay elevated, it can cause several serious health problems. In the long-run, heightened blood sugar levels will cause damage to many vital organs of the body. In the short-term, this condition can lead to hospitalization and, in severe cases, death.

Proactive medical management of diabetes is very important to keep the body healthy.

Can Children Inherit Diabetes?

Yes, children can inherit diabetes. There is a higher probability that your child will have diabetes if you have a family history of it. However, the disease is not always passed down genetically. Some types of diabetes develop in a child whose parents aren’t predisposed to the condition.

If you suspect your child has diabetes, then it’s important you learn about the different types of diabetes and their symptoms. Understanding pediatric diabetes is the key to proper management.

It’s also a good idea to seek expertise about diabetes in children from a pediatric medical professional rather than self-diagnosing.

3 Types of Diabetes

understanding types of pediatric diabetes

There are 3 types of diabetes that are seen most often in children. Each type of diabetes has a different cause.

  • Type 1 Diabetes: T1D is an autoimmune condition where the immune system gradually attacks the cells of the pancreas that make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps keep blood sugar levels in a narrow range.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: T2D is polygenic and typically there is a strong family history. The body makes insulin but the cells are resistant and it takes more insulin to keep blood sugar in the normal range. Over time, if blood sugars continue to be high, the body loses its ability to make insulin.
  • Monogenic Diabetes: This type of diabetes is caused by a single gene defect that typically impacts the release/production of insulin.

Oftentimes, young children suffer from Type 1 diabetes (T1D), which is believed to have an inherited component combined with certain environmental triggers. The cause of type 1 diabetes is not fully understood. However, some children may suffer from Type 2 diabetes (T2D) if they are overweight, inactive, or have a family history of the disease.

Symptoms of Diabetes in Children

Here are some common symptoms of diabetes in children. Take note that all types of diabetes have these symptoms.

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Urinary accidents in potty-trained children day or night
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive hunger
  • Fruity breath
  • Abnormal breathing

If you recognize these symptoms in your child, they may be suffering from diabetes. It’s important to diagnose the disease before starting a management regimen.

Understanding Pediatric Diabetes: Diagnosis

How do you diagnose diabetes in a child? First, it’s a good idea to call your child’s doctor. Your primary care doctor will request blood samples for further evaluation.

The following data indicates a person has diabetes:

  • Fasting blood glucose is over 125 mg/dL
  • Any random level over 199 mg/dL with matching diabetic symptoms
  • Hemoglobin a1c >6.4%

Once properly diagnosed, you will most likely be referred to a pediatric endocrinologist for proper health management.

Management of Diabetes in Children

Your child’s treatment regimen will depend on the main cause of the blood sugar elevation.

understanding pediatric diabetes management

T1D Management

Individuals with Type 1 diabetes require insulin either delivered by injection or pumps.

Children with T1D will be evaluated for associated autoimmune conditions such as thyroid disorders and celiac disease. Talk to your pediatrician if you have a family history of these conditions.

T2D Management

Individuals with Type 2 diabetes who have a1c<8.5% can be managed with diet, exercise, and oral medications and those with severe blood sugar elevations typically require insulin.

T2D in children is different from adults in that it tends to be progressive if blood sugars levels are persistently elevated. Children with type 2 diabetes are evaluated for eye, kidney, and nerve complications soon after diagnosis.

Monogenic Diabetes Management

Depending on the genetic cause, individuals with Monogenic Diabetes may be treated with oral medications. Treatment may vary from patient to patient.

Additional Support for Children with Diabetes

Children with diabetes and their family members need ongoing one-on-one education, a tailored medical regimen, and social/emotional support.

There are many organizations and institutions that provide good resources for families with children with diabetes or young adults with diabetes. Some of these include:

Diabetes is a challenging diagnosis and often requires a team of providers to properly manage.

Dr. McIver is a pediatric endocrinologist who specializes in chronic conditions in children.