Children with Diabetes
As parents, we do everything we can to protect our children from harm. The last thing any parent wants to learn is that their child has a potentially lifelong disease like diabetes. But this diagnosis does not have to mean your child will lead a life confined to a hospital bed; indeed, with proper treatment, diabetic children can lead active and normal lives.
It was previously thought that children were exclusively affected by type 1 diabetes (previously known as juvenile diabetes), however in recent years there have been a growing number of cases of children acquiring type 2 diabetes. Experts say our unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyle are to blame. The good news is the effects are reversible with a proper diet and medical treatment.
In the US more than 13,000 children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each year, making it one of the most common chronic diseases found in school-age children. It is believed that an increase in unhealthy eating habits, obesity, and lack of exercise amongst children, is primarily responsible for the increase.
Indeed, it is for these reasons that type 2 diabetes is no longer an uncommon phenomenon among children. In just over twenty years, incidence rates among children and teenagers have nearly tripled.
Causes and Symptoms
type 1 diabetes is marked by the body’s inability to produce insulin. It was previously known as juvenile diabetes because it was found primarily in young children, although it is now known to occur in adults as well.
As is the case with adults, genetic factors may come into play in increasing the probability of someone getting diabetes. A person with one or more close relative (i.e. parent, sibling or child) that is diabetic is more likely to acquire the disease. Some studies suggest that environmental factors might also be reasons behind early symptoms.
The increased number of type 2 diabetes cases, however, has been linked overwhelmingly to lifestyle changes that have contributed to increased weight problems and lack of activity in children.
Some symptoms of diabetes that you may observe in your child include:
- Increased thirst
- Sudden weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Complains of abdominal pain
- Behavioral problems
Diabetes in children may sometimes also be detected through the presence of ketoacidosis; a very serious condition in which acids called ketones are found in the urine due to the body using fats for energy instead of carbohydrates.
Most children dealing with diabetes need insulin. In the initial stages of diagnosis they may need small doses of fast acting and slow acting insulin, which may increase with age. The advent of insulin pumps for administration has allowed many children added flexibility in their daily lives. The dosage, time of administering and the frequency of injections all depend on the child’s age, activity, and blood glucose level.
Monitoring blood sugar levels
Balancing blood sugar level is the crucial factor in controlling diabetes as high or low sugar levels may pose health risks, especially for children who are still in the growing stage. Therefore it is essential that you and your child monitor her blood sugar levels on a daily basis and adjust her meals, exercise, and dosages according to their reading.
A typical diabetes diet does not look a whole lot different from the recommendations suggested by the food pyramid guide. It requires a reduced consumption of fats (especially animal fats) and sugars, and an increased intake fibers, vegetables and fruits. That means you won’t always have to cook separate meals for your diabetic child since the whole family could benefit from the diet! Eating the same foods will also help your child to feel she is just like everyone else.
Also, you should just ensure your child has her meals at regular intervals everyday, including snack times. Especially if your child is taking insulin, skipping meals or not taking meals with a high insulin dosage may have dangerous effects.
Physical activity is an important aspect of diabetes treatment as it helps in lowering blood glucose levels of the body. But while exercise is good you should also note that sugar levels should not dip too low, so make sure your child has some sugar on hand if this happens. It is best to speak with your doctor about the diet and exercise regime that best suits your child’s special needs.
For the treatment of type 2 diabetes, there are a number of diabetes medications available in the market, which differ slightly in their functions but finally help in overcoming the body’s resistance to insulin. Doctors may prescribe the dosage and medicines depending on the child’s conditions.
The major complication that may arise in children with diabetes is the sudden lowering (hypoglycemia) or increase (hyperglycemia) of blood sugar.
Hypoglycemia occurs when intake of insulin and food and exercise is not properly balanced, causing the body to suddenly loose a lot of blood sugar. This can be dealt with by immediately giving the child a glucose tablet or glucose beverage.
Hyperglycemia or high blood sugar may occur when the insulin in the body is low and the person eats a large amount of foods containing glucose – particularly carbohydrates. It may also occur due to stress or illness and if not treated instantly can lead to ketoacidosis.
Unfortunately, since diabetic children deal will be dealing with the disease for a longer period of time than those who acquire the disease as adults, they also have a slightly greater chance of long-term complications. This may include problems of the kidney, heart, lungs, eyes, feet and nerves. Children may also develop high blood sugar or high cholesterol levels, which is why it is so important that your child be routinely checked by a physician.
Role of Parents
Dealing with diabetes can be just as difficult for parents as it is for their child. There are a lot of things to consider including how you will care for your child, costs of caring for your child, as well as the potential psychological or social problems your child may experience as a result of diabetes.
The best thing to do is understand all the different aspects of diabetes so that you are well prepared and can also teach the child to cope with the disease independently. The things to do as parents are:
- Know as much as you can about diabetes, its symptoms, complications and the treatment measures
- Learn how to give insulin injections and teach your child, too
- Monitor your child’s glucose levels daily
- Know the symptoms of diabetes complications such as hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, and the fastest remedies for them
- Make sure you always have sugar at your disposal
- Meet with your doctor on a regular basis as your child’s symptoms and treatment options may change over time
- Inform your child’s school, friends, relatives, etc. about your child’s diabetes and what to do during an emergency
- Submit a written plan to the school outlining your child’s meal times, snack times, as well as any symptoms and treatments of high or low blood sugar and emergency contact numbers
- Join a support group or get counseling to get feedback from other parents experiencing the same thing
- If your other children are feeling left out because of the extra attention you are giving to the diabetic child, make sure that they too are told about the condition and allowed to participate
- Maintain a schedule of meal and snacks and also promote healthy eating in the family
- Make exercise a part of your life
- Do not let your child use their diabetes to get out of doing homework or other activities they don’t want to participate in
- Encourage to participate fully in all school, or fun activities
- Let your child know that diabetes is not their fault and that it is not an embarrassment they have to hide. They can deal with it and lead a happy life