A study released in 20141 found that type 1 diabetes increased by 21 percent in children from 2001-2009. Type 2 diabetes in children ages 10 to 19 increased 30 percent during the same time period.
Type 1 diabetes is more common in children, and it is often diagnosed in early childhood or during puberty. Boys and girls are affected equally, and it’s more common in Caucasians than in other ethnic groups.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system destroys the pancreatic cells that make insulin. As a result, the body is unable to produce its own insulin. Without adequate levels of this hormone, blood sugar levels rise. Patients with type 1 diabetes must take insulin, either via injection or through a pump. It’s not known what causes type 1 diabetes, but a genetic component often exists.
Children can develop type 2 diabetes, although it’s less common and can be harder to treat than in adults. More cases have been diagnosed in recent years, particularly among children who are significantly overweight and inactive. With type 2 diabetes, your body isn’t able to process insulin properly, which causes blood sugar levels to rise.
As parents, it’s important to understand the warning signs of both types of diabetes in children as well the risk factors that might contribute to its development:
Warning signs of type 1 diabetes
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes tend to come on suddenly in children. Look for these warning signs:
- Unusual thirst, dry mouth, or fruity breath
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss that’s unintentional
- Increased appetite
- Excessive drowsiness, fatigue
- Moodiness or excessive irritability
- Skin conditions, including bacterial or fungal infections
- Genital yeast infections in girls
- Thrush (candidiasis), a severe diaper rash caused by yeast. It can also spread to the stomach and thighs
If you suspect your child may have symptoms of type 1 diabetes, a doctor can diagnose it by using a blood test that’s repeated on two different days.
Risk Factors of Type 1 Diabetes
- Family History: A child with a parent or siblings with type 1 may have a slightly increased risk of developing the disease.
- Genetics: The presence of certain genes may indicate an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Genetic testing can, in some cases, be conducted to determine the risk.
Warning signs of type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes generally develops more gradually than type 1. Some children have the following symptoms:
- Increased thirst, drinking, and urination
- Intense and extreme hunger and eating
- Weight loss, despite eating more than usual
- Conversely, recent weight gain
- Fatigue and irritability
- Blurry vision
- Frequent infections or sores that are slow to heal
- Areas of darkened patch of skin, often around the neck or armpits
Check with your child’s doctor about any symptoms you notice in your child. In addition, doctors recommend that children at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes be tested even if they aren’t showing any symptoms.
Risk factors of type 2 diabetes
- Being overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) above the 85th percentile
- Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
- Being a member of an ethnic group with higher incidences of type 2 diabetes: African-American, Hispanic, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asian-American, or Pacific Islander
The earlier diabetes is detected the better. Left untreated or poorly controlled, it can lead to other health problems. If your family has a history of being overweight and your child is trending that way too, it’s best to seek advice from a doctor or nurse practitioner to be on the safe side. You shouldn’t willingly accept it as being in the family genes. Your child’s pediatrician or nurse can work with you to help him or her understand the disease and how to effectively treat and manage it.