Diabetes that develops when the patient is a juvenile is called juvenile or childhood diabetes. It may be either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or it may even be a hybrid of both. This chronic disease stems from a malfunction in the way the patient's body maintains blood glucose, or sugar, levels.
With type 1 diabetes, the patient does not produce enough insulin, a type of hormone. Insulin is required to maintain steady blood glucose. For other patients with type 2, their bodies can make this hormone, but cannot effectively use it. When the body cannot make or use insulin properly, blood glucose is unable to effectively enter the body's cells. This results in a dangerous build-up of glucose in the bloodstream.
It is unknown exactly what causes this disease, however, type 1 diabetes may be influenced by genetics. Type 2 appears to be more strongly influenced by physical inactivity and excess body weight. It may also be associated with a family history of the disease.
Many of the symptoms of both kinds of childhood diabetes are the same. A child may exhibit signs of unexplained weight loss and unusual fatigue. Despite the weight loss, he will likely be hungrier and consume more food than usual. He may be extremely thirsty and urinate more frequently. Blurred vision is also possible.
In addition to these possible symptoms, children with type 1 diabetes may seem abruptly irritable or moody. Girls may experience yeast infections. With type 2, parents may notice that their children have patches of darkened skin or that sores and wounds are slower to heal. They may also notice frequent infections.
Just because a child exhibits some or most of these symptoms does not automatically mean that he has childhood diabetes. Parents should consult a doctor if they notice changes in their child's health. The doctor may perform a blood test for diagnosis.
While treatment for childhood diabetes begins early in life, this disease is chronic. Treatment must be continued for the rest of the patient's life for proper disease management. Parents must work closely with a doctor, dietitian, and a diabetes educator to develop a treatment plan. This includes regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and possibly medication or injected insulin. It is essential for the child to understand the importance of managing his condition consistently, even if it may seem a little overwhelming at times.
Complications of childhood diabetes can develop gradually if the child's blood sugar levels are not consistently stable. Fluctuating glucose levels may eventually lead to eye and kidney damage, a susceptibility to infections, and cardiovascular disease. Neuropathy, or nerve damage, is a common complication. Careful management of childhood diabetes should allow the patient to live a long, healthy life.