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Diabetes in children

Posted by Be Well

Recent media reports have suggested that children's diabetes is sometimes not recognized until complications develop.

Many children are being admitted to the hospital for emergency diabetes treatment. And many children are admitted to the hospital with complications of diabetes, such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

What are the signs of diabetes?

Would you know what signs to look for in your child?

Many people may not know the symptoms of diabetes. Would you know what to look for in your child?

The main symptoms of diabetes are:

  • feeling very tired,
  • feeling very thirsty most or all of the time, even though you're drinking lots of water,
  • going to the toilet a lot (passing large amounts of urine), and
  • losing weight suddenly, or not growing normally.

When do symptoms affect children?

Diabetes is when there's too much sugar (glucose) in your blood that your body can't cope with.

Your body produces a hormone called insulin, which helps change sugar into energy. If your body doesn't make enough insulin, or can't use the insulin properly, too much sugar remains in your blood.

There are three types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes - where your body produces no insulin at all. Symptoms usually develop before the age of 40. They often develop in teenagers. Out of all people with diabetes, only 5-15% have type 1.
  • Type 2 diabetes - when your body produces too little insulin, or when your body doesn't react properly to insulin. Symptoms can develop in children as young as seven, although they more commonly affect adults over 40. Type 2 is much more common - about 95% of people with diabetes have type 2.
  • Diabetes insipidus is a rare condition where your body cannot retain enough water. It usually affects adults.

Most symptoms of type 1 and type 2 are the same, although they can develop in different ways. The symptoms of diabetes insipidus are similar.

What happens if diabetes symptoms aren't treated?

It's really important to recognize diabetes symptoms early

Symptoms of diabetes can be treated, to control how much sugar is in your blood. For example:

  • Some people can control their condition by eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Others need daily injections of insulin.

It's really important to recognize diabetes symptoms early and seek advice about treatment. If the symptoms aren't controlled, this can lead to:

  • too little sugar in your blood - this can cause a 'hypo' (hypoglycemia), and
  • too much sugar in your blood (hyperglycemia) - this can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

What are the signs of a hypo?

Signs of a hypo can include:

  • feeling shaky and irritable,
  • sweating,
  • tingling lips,
  • feeling weak,
  • hunger, and
  • feeling sick.

In a severe hypo, you can become drowsy and confused, and you may lose consciousness.

What are the signs of DKA?

Some complications need urgent medical treatment

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a build-up of acids in your blood, caused by your body breaking down fats instead of sugar. It can develop in diabetic people if their symptoms are not controlled or treated.

Signs of DKA can include:

  • loss of appetite,
  • feeling or being sick,
  • a high temperature,
  • stomach pain, and
  • a fruity smell on your breath, which may smell like pear drops or nail varnish.

DKA can eventually cause unconsciousness and even death.

Getting help

If your child has symptoms of DKA or a severe hypo, they need emergency medical treatment - dial 911 for an ambulance.

If you think your child has early symptoms of diabetes, speak with your doctor. It's important to start treatment as soon as possible.

Some pharmacies may offer free diabetes tests - you can ask at your local pharmacy for more information.

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