Type 1 diabetes in children is a condition in which your child’s body stops producing an important hormone (insulin). Your child needs insulin to survive. Therefore, the missing insulin should be replaced by injections or an insulin pump. Type 1 diabetes in children was formerly known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes.
Diagnosing type 1 diabetes in children can be overwhelming, especially early on. Suddenly, depending on their age, you and your child need to learn how to give injections, count carbohydrates, and monitor blood sugar.
There is no cure for type 1 diabetes in children, but it can be treated. Advances in monitoring blood sugar and insulin delivery have improved blood sugar management and the quality of life in children with type 1 diabetes.
The signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children usually develop quickly and can include:
Frequent urination, possibly bed-wetting in a toilet-trained child
Involuntary weight loss
Irritability or behavior changes
A breath with a fruity smell
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. In most people with type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system, which normally wards off harmful bacteria and viruses, mistakenly destroys insulin-producing cells (islets) in the pancreas. Genetics and environmental factors seem to play a role.
After the pancreatic islet cells are destroyed, your child will make little or no insulin. Insulin takes on the essential task of transporting sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. Sugar enters the bloodstream when food is digested.
Without enough insulin, sugar builds up in your child’s bloodstream where, if left untreated, it can lead to life-threatening complications.
Risk factors for type 1 diabetes in children include:
Family history. Anyone with a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes is at a slightly increased risk of developing the disease.
Genetically. Certain genes indicate an increased risk of type 1 diabetes.
Run. In the United States, type 1 diabetes is more common in non-Hispanic white children than in children of other races.
Some viruses. Exposure to various viruses can trigger islet cell autoimmune destruction.
There is currently no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes, but it is a very active area of research. Researchers are working on:
Prevent type 1 diabetes in people who are at high risk of developing the disease and who have recently identified at least one drug that can slow the development of the disease.
Prevent further islet cell destruction in newly diagnosed people.
Doctors can detect antibodies related to type 1 diabetes in children who are at high risk of developing the disorder. These antibodies can be detected months or even years before the first symptoms of type 1 diabetes appear. However, there is currently no known way to slow or prevent the disease if antibodies are detected. It’s also important to know that not all people with these antibodies develop type 1 diabetes.