Although the number of children with type 2 diabetes is growing, type 1 is still the most prevalent form of the disease in people younger than 18. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s own immune system, designed to attack infectious agents invading from outside, instead attacks cells that perform a healthy, normal body function.
In type 1 diabetes, either essential cells of the pancreas are destroyed by the immune system or the pancreas simply does not produce enough insulin, a hormone essential to life. After the food that we eat releases sugar into the bloodstream, insulin is like a key that unlocks the cells to receive the sugar for energy. Without insulin, the sugar (glucose) cannot be used, and it builds up in the bloodstream. When no insulin is available, your body starves — even though you may have plenty of sugar in your bloodstream.
Type 1 diabetes was formerly called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. For the rest of their lives, children with type 1 diabetes must get insulin shots or use a pump that delivers insulin automatically.
What causes type 1 diabetes?
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. Children who have it may have inherited a genetic condition (why the disease develops at a particular time, whether it be in infancy, childhood, puberty, or adulthood, however, is still a mystery). It generally appears when they are very young or in their teenage years. It seems to run in the family, so if both parents are diabetic, there’s a higher risk their children will also develop the disease.
When can you get diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes usually appears before age 30, but it can show up at any age, including infancy, and it may occur abruptly. Although it used to be unheard of in youth, type 2 diabetes is now an epidemic among children and teens. The difference between the two forms of the disease is that type 2 insulin has become ineffective while with type 1, the child’s body does not produce insulin.
What are the symptoms?
Perhaps the most important symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children are frequent use of the bathroom and constant thirst. If your child has these symptoms, take them to a physician for a checkup.
These are some of the common symptoms of type 1 diabetes:
- Problems with urination, including increased frequency and bed-wetting
- Constant thirst
- Agitation or excessive irritability
- Increased appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent infections
- Sores that are slow to heal
- Dry, itchy skin
How is type 1 diabetes diagnosed?
According to Mayo Clinic, the following tests are used to diagnose type 1 diabetes:
Random blood sugar test. The primary screening test for type 1 diabetes, this test involves taking a blood sample at a random time. Unlike a fasting blood sugar test, this test does not take into account when the child last ate. A random blood sugar level of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 11.1 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), or higher suggests diabetes.
Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This measures the child’s average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. An A1C test measures how much sugar (glucose) is bound to the hemoglobin in red blood cells. An A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher on two separate tests indicates diabetes.
Fasting blood sugar test. A blood sample is taken after your child fasts overnight. Type 1 diabetes is indicated with a fasting blood sugar level of 126 mg/dL (7.0 mmol/L) or higher.
Is there a cure for type 1 diabetes?
Unfortunately, there’s not yet a cure. Diabetes is a chronic, lifelong disease requiring