Although diabetes is a fairly common disease, its detection in children is not that easy. The common symptoms of diabetes are feeling very thirsty or urinating very often, but these are not conclusive, unless accompanied by other symptoms and tests. Generally, the symptoms in children are dismissed by adults as childhood quirks or pranks and hence, not given due importance. Problems related to vision loss and nervous system can be quite serious. This also causes an increase in risk of heart attacks and kidney diseases. If neglected, this condition can change the life of the affected child. From being a kid, who never thought about what he or she ate, they will turn into the one, who has to watch and count the carbohydrate intake and live on insulin injections.
Diabetes in children has been on the rise since 1980s, at a rate of 3 to 5% per year. In fact, the number of children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is twice the number in compare to the statics of 20 yrs ago. While this could be related to an increase in junk food and sedentary lifestyle, it could also be due to a reduction in exposure to early infections, which could alter the child’s immune response. This in turn, could lead to an autoimmune attack on body’s beta-cells, which produce insulin. Sometimes, an exposure to a virus like the one causing hand-foot-mouth disease (e.g. Coxsackie virus) could be the cause of a child getting diabetes 1.
The early symptoms, which can cause concern, are drinking a lot of water (polydipsia) and being very thirsty, polyuria (urinating often), losing weight without trying, having sores which don’t heal and having blurry eyesight. Dry and itchy skin and a feeling of being very tired and hungry also are indicative of this condition. Children also tend to be lethargic and irritable, which adults often term as being lazy and difficult. What parents need to watch out for is the manifestation of a lot of these symptoms together. Parents often say that their child was not himself or herself for a long time and they couldn’t understand the reason.
Generally, doctor advices a glucose urine test as the first step towards diagnosing diabetes. It’s easier to conduct than the blood test, which is more reliable and sure. Once sugar is spotted in the urine, a blood-glucose test (without fasting) can confirm the condition. Your child will have diabetes, if their blood- glucose reading is 200mg/dl or more.
If the blood-glucose test reflects lower levels of blood sugar, but your doctor is still suspicious, he may ask for glycated haemoglobin (A1C) test. This test works by measuring the percentage of blood sugar, which is attached to haemoglobin (a protein which carries oxygen in the red blood cells). If the blood sugar level is high, more haemoglobin will have sugar attached to it. A test result of 6.5 % or higher indicates diabetes.
Another test may be the fasting blood sugar level test. After an overnight fasting, the blood sugar level of the child is measured. Normal levels are below 100 mg/dl (5.6mmol/L). A blood sugar level between 100 – 125 mg/dl (5.6 to 6.9mmol/L) is termed as pre-diabetes. Your child will be diagnosed with diabetes, if the fasting blood sugar level is higher than 126mg/dl (7mmol/L) on two separate tests.
Once diabetes is confirmed, your doctor will do some more tests. Blood tests will be done to check for autoantibodies found in diabetes 1. This will help your doctor to ascertain between type 1 and type2 diabetes. For example, if ketones (fat breakdown by products) are found in your child’s urine, the doctor will know its type1 diabetes and will treat your child accordingly.
In addition, it is also important to check cholesterol levels, liver and kidney functions through blood and urine samples. The doctor will also regularly take your child’s blood pressure and examine his or her growth to make a treatment plan.
If detected in time, this condition can be controlled effectively. Some lifestyle changes coupled with a healthful diet and regular exercise can help the affected child lead a near to normal life. Family can play a big role in helping the child and giving the required support.
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