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Symptoms of Diabetes in Children

Susie McGee
A doctor talking to a child during an examination

Recognizing the symptoms of diabetes in children is the first step to managing your child's health as he or she struggles with this disease. Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of the disease in children, although children can suffer from Type 2 diabetes as well.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is referred to as an autoimmune disease, which means the body's immune system attacks one of the body's own tissues or organs. In Type 1 diabetes, it's the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas that are destroyed. Type 1 diabetes typically begins in childhood or young adulthood.

In Type 2, the beta cells continue to produce insulin. However, either the cells do not respond properly to the insulin or the natural insulin is not enough to meet the needs of the body. Because of this, insulin is usually still present in a person with Type 2 diabetes, but it does not work as well as it should. Some people with Type 2 are able to control the disease by losing weight, managing their diet, and increasing their exercise. Others may take medications, including insulin.

Symptoms of Diabetes in Children

Diabetes is often referred to as a silent disease. Many people often ignore, misinterpret, or simply miss the symptoms, especially in children. Common symptoms of diabetes in children include the following:

  • Blurry vision
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Excessive thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Tummy aches
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Behavior problems

Causes of Diabetes

For many parents, the first question concerns why their child has this disease. Many mistakenly believe that they caused their child to contract diabetes because they gave him too much sugar. That reasoning, however, is unfounded. While genes sometimes play a role in diabetes, the majority of children who have Type 1 diabetes don't have a history of the disease in their family. Researchers continue to work diligently as they try to narrow down the causes of diabetes, whether it be genetically related or environmentally linked. There are some risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, and these include the following:

  • History of diabetes in the family
  • Overweight (which is another argument for battling child obesity
  • Physically inactive
  • Member of a particular ethnic group, such as African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latino

Treatment of Diabetes

Currently, there is no cure for diabetes, although researchers and physicians one day hope to change that statement. Treatment can include a change in diet and physical activity, but often involves medication, especially when treating children. Children must often be given insulin on a routine basis. Insulin is usually given as an injection. There are four main types of insulin injections, and doses may be two times a day, three times a day, or in multiple daily doses, depending upon the need.

  1. Short-acting-This insulin is soluble, starts working within 30 to 60 minutes, and lasts six to eight hours.
  2. Intermediate-acting-This isophane insulin starts working after one to two hours and lasts 10 to 14 hours.
  3. Long-acting-This type of insulin starts working after one to two hours and lasts for up to 24 hours.
  4. Biphasic insulin-These insulin mixtures of short-acting and intermediate-acting insulins are mixed in different proportions.

When treating symptoms of diabetes, a pump treatment is sometimes used, especially in children. The pump provides a constant drip-feed of insulin through a needle in the skin and extra insulin doses with meals. The amount of insulin is controlled by a small portable pump called an infusion pump.

Help and Resources

If you think your child is showing symptoms of diabetes, contact your pediatrician immediately. If your child has been diagnosed with diabetes, you'll work closely with your child's doctor and a trained dietician to manage the disease. You will continuously monitor your child's diet, exercise level, and blood sugar. For more information on the symptoms and treatment of diabetes in children, check out the following Web sites:

Symptoms of Diabetes in Children