Did you know that fewer than 5% of people with diabetes have type 1? Those with type 1 are typically diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, so warning signs must be commonly known to aid in early diagnosis. If left untreated, type 1 diabetes can have drastic effects on your child’s body. Knowing what signs to look out for can be a lifesaver, and the sooner you find it, the better. Below, you’ll find a little more information about what defines diabetes, the difference between the two types, and what warning signs indicate that your child may be suffering from it.
Type 1 vs Type 2 diabetes
Diabetes is a chronic disease in which your body has abnormally high glucose levels. These levels are caused by a malfunction in the body that leads to it being unable to process insulin, the hormone responsible for breaking down sugar molecules in the blood.
The disease exists in different forms, with each type affecting the body differently and requiring a different treatment. It’s important to know the difference, and this type 1 and type 2 diabetes guide from GoodRx is a great place to start.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin at all. According to Cleveland Clinic, the absence of insulin causes hyperglycemia, which results in side effects that develop quickly and can leave you extremely sick. This type is typically found in children and young adults, but can be diagnosed at any age.
Those living with type 2 diabetes are able to produce their own insulin, but their bodies have developed an insensitivity to it. This insensitivity typically develops later in life and is caused by unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes are more subtle than type 1 and develop over a longer period of time.
If left untreated or managed improperly, both types of diabetes can lead to drastic long-term effects—including vision problems, kidney damage, heart failure, and nerve damage.
Causes and risks of type 1
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is still unknown. What is known is that it’s an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s immune system is attacking itself and preventing normal body functions. Unfortunately, this means there are no prevention tactics for type 1 diabetes. Your child is more at risk if they have a family member suffering from the disease or if they live in a colder climate, and they are more likely to develop it between the ages of 4 and 7, and 10 and 14.
Signs that your child has diabetes
Type 1 diabetes symptoms can appear rapidly and have severe effects on your child’s body. Here are a few signs that you should be aware of and watch out for:
Increased thirst: One of the symptoms of type 1 diabetes is that when a child has high blood sugar levels, that can cause them to be very thirsty. The inability to absorb blood sugar causes the body to clean the blood through the kidneys more often—causing your child’s body to signal that it is thirsty more often. If you notice your child is asking for water more frequently than usual and is difficult to satiate, it could be an early sign that their blood sugar is increased.
Frequent urination: An increase in drinking fluids, coupled with the fact that the body is filtering the blood through the kidneys more often, will cause your child to be using the bathroom more often than they did before. If your child is potty trained and is suddenly wetting themselves or makes a lot of trips to the bathroom, it might be an indicator that they have high blood sugar.
Extreme hunger: The absence of insulin makes it impossible for your child to absorb the energy and nutrients from their food, which means that the body will continue sending hunger signals to the brain. If you notice that your child is uncharacteristically hungry all of a sudden, they might not be digesting their food properly due to the lack of insulin.
Weight loss: Since diabetes prevents the body from using sugar as an energy source, the body begins to take nutrients from existing fat and muscle tissue—resulting in a rapid loss of weight. If your child is showing the symptom of losing weight seemingly out of nowhere, it’s important to take them for a checkup as soon as possible to have their sugar levels checked.
Fruity-smelling breath: When insulin levels are extremely low, the body enters into a state of ketoacidosis, in which the body starts burning fat for fuel. One of the chemicals that results as a by-product of this process, acetone, is disposed of through the breath, causing the breath to have a fruity scent. If your child’s breath smells unusually sweet, then it might be a sign that their body has an insulin deficiency and you should take them to the doctor as soon as possible.
Changes in vision: High glucose levels can have negative effects on your eyesight. Having too much sugar in the blood can block the blood vessels in your retinas—making it difficult for your eyes to detect light and send the signals to the brain. If your child is complaining of blurry vision or is having trouble seeing the board in their classrooms, it might be a sign that they have too much glucose in their blood.
Changes in behavior: If your child is fatigued, irritable, or feeling weak, it may be an indicator that their body isn’t properly absorbing energy from their food. Watch out for sudden behavioral changes that don’t appear to be a direct result of anything else.
If you notice that your child is exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, take them to the doctor for a complete checkup—they might be warning signs that your child is suffering from diabetes and it’s a critical disease to catch as early as possible.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diabetes is diagnosed through a blood test administered by a doctor. Once your child receives their diagnosis, you will need to start managing their glucose levels. Since their bodies are unable to produce the insulin it needs, you’ll have to start administering it manually.
There are different types of insulin that work at different speeds and last for different lengths of time. You will need to discuss the options with your doctor to know which works best for your child, and you’ll need to create a schedule that works for them as well.
It’s also important to monitor your child’s eating and exercise habits, as this will affect blood sugar levels as well as the dosage of insulin your child needs throughout the day.
Most importantly, one of the best things you can do for your diabetic child is getting an early diagnosis. The earlier that you’re able to stabilize blood sugar levels, the less likely it will be that your child has to suffer from the severe complications that come with untreated diabetes. With proper management, your child can live a long, healthy, and normal life.