November is Diabetes Awareness Month
About 215,000 young people under 20 years of age have diabetes.
Every day, 35 children in America are diagnosed as having type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes, which has also been called juvenile diabetes, occurs when the body stops producing insulin, a hormone which is essential for life. Therefore, people with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin every day for the rest of their lives.
Unlike someone with type 1 diabetes, a person with type 2 diabetes still produces insulin but the body doesn’t respond to it normally. While it used to be that children or teenagers diagnosed with diabetes always had type 1 diabetes, there has been a significant increase in type 2 diabetes in these age groups in recent years. Some studies report that between 8% and 45% of children who’ve been newly diagnosed with diabetes have the form known as type 2, which used to be called adult-onset diabetes. Many experts believe that the increase of obesity in youth is the cause of these newly diagnosed type 2 cases. Kids and teens with type 2 diabetes can use diet, exercise, and medicines that improve the body’s response to insulin to control their blood sugar levels, though they may eventually have to inject insulin to keep their blood sugar under control.
Taking insulin does not cure diabetes; it is a life-long chronic disease for which there is no cure. It requires constant attention. Without insulin, glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood, can’t get into the cells so it stays in the bloodstream. As a result, the level of sugar in the blood remains higher than normal. High blood sugar levels are a problem because they can cause a number of symptoms and health problems, including:
- damage to the eyes and vision impairment (eventually leading to blindness),
- kidney damage (eventually leading to kidney disease and dialysis),
- nerve damage (eventually leading to numbness), and
- damage to blood vessels (eventually leading to heart disease, stroke or amputation of limbs).
Obviously, these health problems don’t usually show up in kids or teens who have had type 2 diabetes for only a few years. However, they do occur over a long period of time when blood sugar has not been properly controlled. Therein lies the problem for managing diabetes in children. Young kids and teens live in the present. It is very hard for children to imagine the health risks they may face later in life. Children might not understand why the blood testing and medications are necessary. They may be scared, angry, and uncooperative. Teens may feel different from their peers and want to live a more spontaneous lifestyle than their diabetes allows. Even when they faithfully follow their treatment schedule, teens with diabetes may feel frustrated when the natural adolescent body changes during puberty may make their diabetes somewhat harder to control. The immediate focus must be on setting realistic and attainable short-term goals for blood glucose control.
The signs and symptoms of diabetes aren’t always obvious and they can take a long time to develop. It is even possible to have diabetes with no symptoms. However, here are some possible signs:
- frequent urination
- excessive thirst
- weakness, drowsiness, and/or fatigue
- weight loss
- recurrent infections (particularly frequent yeast infections for girls)
- sores and cuts that are slow to heal
- tingling or numbness in hands and feet
- development of thick, dark, velvet-like skin around the neck, armpits, groin, between fingers and toes, or on elbows and knees (acanthosis nigricans)
Additionally, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in girls is also often associated with insulin resistance. PCOS is a hormone problem that can cause the ovaries to become enlarged and develop fluid-filled sacs called cysts. Girls with PCOS often have irregular periods or may stop having periods altogether, and are more likely to get excess facial and body hair growth. PCOS can also result in fertility problems.
If your child has these symptoms — especially increased urination and/or thirst — have him or her checked for diabetes. Your doctor will test his or her blood and do a urinalysis.