Diabetes in Children

Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in children. It is estimated that 90-95 percent of children under the age of 16 with diabetes have this type. It is caused when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is classified as an autoimmune disease. This means it's a condition in which the body's immune system 'attacks' one of the body's own tissues or organs. In this case it's the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas that are destroyed.

While this genetic background is extremely important, the alarming increase in new cases of children with type 2 diabetes highlights the role of environmental factors. Maintaining blood sugars in the normal range call for a delicate balance between the amount of available insulin and is action at the cellular level. Puberty has been recognized as important in the development of type 2 diabetes in children. Changes in hormone levels during this time in childhood cause insulin resistance and decreased insulin action. Type 2 diabetes in children most often occurs during mid-puberty. Please note that cases as young as 4 years of age have been reported.


Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry have published the result of a study in the journal suggesting that increasing the amount of sleep that teenagers get could improve their insulin resistance and prevent the future onset of diabetes.

The study author, Dr. Karen Matthews noted "High levels of insulin resistance can lead to the development of diabetes... we found that if teens that normally get six hours of sleep per night get one extra hour of sleep, they would improve insulin resistance by nine percent." During the study, team members tracked sleep patterns, duration and insulin resistance levels of over 240 healthy high school teenagers. Weekday sleep duration averaged about 6 hours, notably lower than times recorded on weekends.

The study established that higher insulin resistance is associated with shorter sleep duration independent of race, age, gender, waist circumference, and body mass index. The study team concluded that interventions to encourage metabolic health in adolescence should include efforts to extend nightly sleep duration.

Diagnosis, Symptoms & Treatment

If your child has been recently diagnosed with diabetes, you may be worried about how it will affect their childhood. Typically, kids with diabetes can do everything regular kids do! Yes, that means they can live normal, active life. They just have to be more careful about planning their daily activities. Their pediatrician will help you and your family plan around their daily routines.

A common mistaken belief is that kids with diabetes can't eat anything with sugar. This is a myth. The truth is, kids can eat things like birthday cake, cookies, ice cream etc. They just have to eat these foods in moderation. Their diet for the rest of that day needs to be carefully planned and the insulin dose may need to be altered. A healthy meal plan for a child with diabetes is actually the same for a child without diabetes.

It may seem overwhelming now, but diabetes care will quickly become part of your child's everyday routine as well as your entire family's.

Are you concerned that your child may have diabetes? Symptoms are the same as in adults. They tend to come on over a few weeks. These symptoms include: thirst, headaches, stomach pains, weight loss, tiredness and frequent urination.

Most children with diabetes need to be treated with insulin Your child will need to develope an individual insulin routine. Your doctor will help you and your child create this routine. Most now use frequent daily dosage regimes of fast-acting insulin during the day and slow-acting insulin at night. Very small children normally do not need an injection at night, but will need one as they grow older. Increasing numbers of teenagers use continuous insulin pumps.

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