Dr. Gellner: You just learned that your child has type 1 diabetes, or you're worried that your child might have it. That's a scary diagnosis for any parent to consider. What you really need to know on today's Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.
Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering "The Healthy Kids Zone," with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.
Dr. Gellner: Every year in the United States, 13,000 children are diagnosed, and more than 1 million American kids and adults deal with this condition every day. In type 1 diabetes, your child's own immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Once those cells are destroyed, they won't ever make insulin again. Although no one knows for certain why this happens, scientists think it's a combination of genetics and other external factors combined that triggered this immune system reaction.
Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, and there's no real way to predict who will get it. Parents often feel guilty that they've done something to cause this, but parents need to understand it's nothing they did. Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition. Kids and teens with type 1 diabetes will depend on daily insulin shots or an insulin pump to control their blood sugar levels.
Parents often ask me to check their children for diabetes because their children drink all the time and urinate all the time. It's an excessive amount of drinking that we often see and the urination isn't just drops of pee in the toilet. It's a full bladder of urine. Kids who have long been potty trained and have never wet the bed all of a sudden start to have accidents day or night. Kids will often seem to eat a ton as well and never gain weight, or they might actually lose weight.
Now, parents all the time are concerned that their child isn't eating like they should, but it's what happens on the growth curves that lets pediatricians know if this is a normal phase that kids go through, or if it's something more worrisome. Sometimes, these symptoms are easily identified and pediatricians catch the disease early with a simple finger stick to check your child's sugar level.
If diabetes isn't caught, chemicals called ketones can build up in your child's blood and cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fruity smelly breath, breathing problems, and even loss of consciousness. This is a serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, and it requires fast action in the emergency room to correct. The good news is that treating diabetes and keeping your child's sugar level in check can help prevent long-term damage seen in adults, especially to the heart, eyes, and kidneys.
The bad news is there are going to be a lot of needles to do this. Your child will need to learn to check their blood sugar levels several times a day and give themselves insulin shots since their bodies aren't making it anymore. They need to eat a healthy diet low in carbohydrates and sugars. And we all know that's a challenge for anyone, especially a kid.
You and your child will start seeing a doctor called an endocrinologist. This is a pediatrician with additional training in hormone issues, including diabetes. The endocrinologist, you, and your child will all work together to come up with a plan on how to keep your child's diabetes in check. Living with diabetes is a challenge no matter what age a person is, but young kids and teens often have special issues to deal with. They may have a hard time understanding why they need so many needles, why can't they eat what their friends are, why did this happen to them.
If you have a teen with diabetes, they may feel different from their peers, and they may want to live a more spontaneous lifestyle than their diabetes allows. Not to mention that puberty hormones can make diabetes control even harder. Having a child with diabetes can seem overwhelming at times, but you're not alone. Your child's diabetes care team is not only a great resource for the medical side of things but also for support and helping you and your child cope with this long-term condition.
Until scientists have figured out a better way to treat, and possibly defeat diabetes, you as a parent can help your child lead a happy, healthy life, by giving constant encouragement, and helping them stay on top of their blood sugar control every day. This will let your kids do all the things that the other kids do and remind them to enjoy being a kid instead of feeling like a pin cushion.
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