Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by increased levels of sugar in the blood. It is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce the hormone insulin, which is responsible for maintaining normal levels of sugar in the blood, or the insensitivity of the body to the amount of insulin produced. There are two types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes: The pancreas produces little or no insulin, and diabetes develops when the body’s immune system destroys the pancreas cells. It is also called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile-onset diabetes as it is commonly seen in children.
- Type 2 diabetes: The pancreas usually produces normal levels of insulin, but the body becomes resistant to the hormone. It is associated with inactivity, obesity and genetic factors. Also called adult-onset diabetes, it occurs mainly in adults, but is becoming more common in children because of the increase of childhood obesity.
The common symptoms of diabetes mellitus are increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision and frequent infections. When your child is suspected of having diabetes, your doctor confirms the diagnosis through blood tests.
Effective treatment can prevent long-term damage to other organs such as the heart (cardiovascular problems), nerves, kidneys, eyes, feet and skin, which can be life-threatening. Treatment involves lifelong management of blood sugar levels with healthy eating, exercising, oral medications and insulin. In the course of treatment, your child may develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) as a result of skipping a meal, excess physical activity or injecting excess insulin, or alternately, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) by overeating or not taking enough insulin. These complications should be managed by adjusting your child’s food and insulin intake and activity level.
As your child grows, his/her treatment plan will change. A new meal plan may be advised, and a change in medication and a different type of insulin may be prescribed. Diabetes mellitus management should be a constant collaboration between you and your child’s doctor.