Recognising the Early Signs of Diabetes in Children is IMPORTANT as it may save your Child’s life!

diabetes in children

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) remains the most common form of diabetes in children and adolescents in Australia and world-wide, though more and more children are developing Type 2 diabetes (T2D) due to obesity and poor lifestyle.

T1D remains one of the most chronic childhood conditions and seems to be on the increase. As this is a threatening, life-long ailment, it’s important for parents to recognise the early signs and symptoms of the disease. Early diagnosis and intervention are paramount, so read on to discover the warning signs and what to do.

What is Type 1 diabetes?

When a child develops Type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin, preventing glucose from entering the body’s cells to provide energy. This chronic condition occurs when a child’s immune system targets and attacks special cells in the pancreas, the Beta cells that produce insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is a life-threatening condition and accounts for around 90% of all diabetes cases in children. Once diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, it impacts the child for the rest of their lives.

Type 1 Diabetes symptoms

Let’s now dig deeper into the typical symptoms and warning signs that your child might have Type 1 diabetes. T1D is typically defined by the 4T symptoms. However, there are other indicators. We’ll start with the 4Ts.

Toilet habits

An excessive need to urinate is often one of the very first indicators of T1D. In addition, your child might start wetting the bed when previously this didn’t happen. A further indicator is rising in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

Always thirsty

If you notice your child drinks a lot of water or other liquid and seems unable to quench their thirst, this is a prime indication that diabetes may be developing. Does your child finish drinks very quickly and constantly want more?

Tired a lot

Is your child lethargic and seems more tired than usual for no apparent reason? Are they not playing as often, have less energy in sports and generally just seem fatigued much of the time? A constant state of lethargy points to possible T1D onset.

Appears thinner

Sudden weight loss in your child is another possible indicator that the contraction of diabetes might be on the horizon. Losing weight or looking thinner than usual is a very common symptom of this chronic disease as children with diabetes lack the insulin hormone whose job is to store energy as fat in the body.

Other symptoms of T1D

Here’s a quick reference list of other symptoms that could indicate the onset of T1D:

  • Dry mouth
  • Oral or vaginal thrush infections
  • Headaches and blurred vision
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea, vomiting and stomach pain
  • Fruity “acetone: smelling breath - a sign of impending diabetes ketoacidosis or DKA which can lead to diabetes coma, severe dehydration and requirement for Intensive care admission.
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Constant hunger

What happens if T1D goes untreated?

Early diagnosis and treatment are vital. Otherwise, if Type 1 diabetes goes untreated for too long, the life-threatening condition of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) develops and becomes a medical emergency.

Once your child has DKA, the body begins to break down fat for energy as it can no longer use sugar. This results in ketones (a type of acid) building up in the blood. High levels of ketones cause the blood to become acidic.

If a child with DKA isn’t taken to a doctor or hospital immediately, they will start vomiting, become extremely dehydrated and eventually lose consciousness and slip into a coma.

Here’s an educational video produced by Dr Gary Leong and his Children’s Diabetes team at Nepean Hospital for further information about the 4T symptoms of Diabetes and to prevent DKA. This might just save your child from becoming very sick with DKA and help them start their new life with diabetes in a positive and happier way.

Play Video

What causes T1D?

The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown but is thought to be due to autoimmune destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas by the child’s own immune system. Some experts state this can be triggered by a virus, which causes the body’s own immune system to attack the beta cells in the pancreas that produce vital insulin hormone.

Here are some other known contributing factors:

  • Having a family history of Type 1 diabetes or other autoimmune conditions
  • Abnormal gut microbiota in the context possibly of Western ultra processed low fibre diet.

Diagnosis and treatment of T1D

If you suspect your child might have diabetes, take them to a doctor ASAP and ask for a simple blood glucometer finger prick test. If a GP discovers high levels of sugar present in the blood, they should immediately refer your child to a specialist diabetes team at the local paediatric hospital caring for children with diabetes.

DO NOT ACCEPT any reassurance from your GP that your child could not have diabetes until your GP has tested your child’s blood glucose level in his clinic with a blood glucometer machine.

There is generally no need to delay the diagnosis by being referred for a formal fasting blood test at the local pathology centre. This will only increase the risk of your child developing DKA and ending up very sick in ICU in one of the children’s hospitals.

The initial focus on starting insulin therapy ASAP, and if need be, on rehydrating the child and treating the high acid levels in the blood (acidosis) with insulin.

As T1D is a life-long condition with no cure, regular testing of blood sugar levels and the administering of insulin via insulin pump therapy or insulin injections are necessary.

Living with Type 1 diabetes

Can a child with T1D live a long and normal life?

The answer is yes, with the right diabetes management plan in place. With modern advances in diabetes technology, it provides a better quality of life for children, adolescents and adults living with Type 1 diabetes.

It’s important to eat a healthy diet matched with insulin doses. Drinking plenty of water is also advisable. Children with T1D also need to remain physically active. This boosts the immune system, maintains an ideal body weight and lessens the symptoms associated with the condition.

The Children’s Clinic

At Childhood Obesity Prevention and the Children’s Clinic, we’re committed to providing exceptional healthcare services for kids of all ages. This includes Type 1 diabetes management and treatment. Get in touch today and book a personal consultation for you and your child.