SmartParenting.com.phrecently published the story of a mom who almost lost her 3-year-old daughter to type 1 diabetes. Mom Joanne Clarisse Reña thought it was the flu or an asthma episode when they brought daughter Sophia to the hospital. But she wasn't responding to the antibiotics, and her situation grew dire until Joanne insisted on more tests. Finally, a urinalysis was conducted, and to Joanne's shock, her little girl had type 1 diabetes.
What exactly is type 1 diabetes, and how can a toddler have it? How does it differ from type 2 diabetes, which was previously known as adult-onset diabetes?
What is type 1 diabetes? Diabetes is a disease that causes a person's blood glucose (sugar) levels to become too high. Glucose, which comes from the food we eat, is important as cells in the body use it as energy. For the cells to be able to absorb glucose, however, they need insulin. “Without insulin, glucose can't get into the cells and so it stays in the bloodstream. As a result, the level of sugar in the blood remains higher than normal,” explained KidsHealth.
People with diabetes have a body that either makes little to no insulin or resists the effect of insulin. The former describes type 1 diabetes, and “it has nothing to do with how much sugar a person eats,” said KidsHealth.
To explain, Ann Marie Tan-Ting, M.D., FAAP, who is a pediatric endocrinologist at De Los Santos Medical Center, told Smart Parenting, “In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can no longer make insulin because the body's immune system destroys the cells that make them.”
Once a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, chances are she’ll need insulin injections already.
How does type 1 differ from type 2 diabetes? “In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin, but the body does not use it effectively. It loses its ability to respond to insulin. This is called insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes may be treated initially with oral medications but may eventually also require insulin injections,” said Dr. Tan-Ting.
It’s unknown what causes both types of diabetes exactly. Scientists and medical professionals say it’s possible that genes and other environmental factors such as viruses may play a role in type 1 diabetes, according to Mayo Clinic.
For type 2 diabetes, weight gain and other unhealthy lifestyle factors like a lack of exercise — not necessarily just eating a lot of sweets — increases a person’s risk for the condition. “In the majority of cases, type 2 diabetes is brought on by lifestyle factors, which can often be prevented,” said the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
How do I know if my child has type 1 diabetes? According to KidsHealth, type 1 diabetes symptoms include the need to pee a lot (because the kidneys are trying to flush out the extra glucose), drinking a lot of liquids (an effect of the frequent urination), feeling tired often (because the body isn't getting energy), and weight loss (as the body breaks down fat to use as energy instead).
The frustrating part of type 1 diabetes is these symptoms don’t appear all the time, or if it does, it appears suddenly. Diabetes is also something you'd associate with grown-ups, not young kids.
As Dr. Tan-Ting, points out, “Blood glucose levels are not routinely checked in children.”
What happens when type 1 diabetes is not immediately diagnosed? “If the patient's initial symptoms are missed and not recognized as type 1 diabetes, life-threatening complications can occur,” said Dr. Tan-Ting.
Sophia's case is a perfect example (read her story here) because according to her mom, her only symptom was a little weight loss. When Joanne brought her hospital she had a fever and a cough that were not improving even with antibiotics. Sophia became hard to wake up, and her condition turned critical. That's when her type 1 diabetes was discovered after a urinalysis.
Dr. Tan-Ting adds that patients with type 1 diabetes could develop to diabetic ketoacidosis, a warning sign that the diabetes is out of control. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a complication of diabetes where too many ketones in the blood can make it acidic, which can lead to a coma or even death. It happens when the cells don’t get the glucose and the body starts burning fat instead of energy, which then produces ketones, according to the ADA.
“It’s a very serious, but preventable, complication,” said Dr. Tan-Ting. “If immediate medical treatment is done with intravenous fluids and insulin, then the child can recover completely.”
How is type 1 diabetes managed? Complications due to diabetes can be prevented with management. “Once type 1 Diabetes has been diagnosed in the child, treatment involves monitoring of blood glucose, insulin therapy and shifting to a diet suitable for diabetics. Management of a child's diabetes utilizes a team approach involving their endocrinologist, pediatrician, nurses, and nutritionist,” said Dr. Tan Ting.
She added, “The parent will be taught to check and record their child's blood sugar using a glucometer and how to measure and administer insulin injections. In addition, they will learn to how to plan meals suitable for a diabetic.”
How does type 1 diabetes affect the life of a child? “It is a major lifestyle change. The child will have to get used to monitoring their blood glucose and getting multiple insulin injections. They have to eat meals at regular times and plan the food they eat. They need to follow up with their endocrinologist regularly to adjust their insulin doses.
Dr. Tan-Ting says, “However, once they adjust, they can resume their regular activities including school, sports, and their social life. I always tell my patients that having diabetes should not prevent them from achieving their dreams.”