Type 1 diabetes is a chronic (meaning it never goes away), autoimmune disease that causes the pancreas to produce little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone that converts sugars into nutrients and helps move those nutrients into our cells to produce energy. Without insulin, sugar builds up in the bloodstream, causing hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar.
People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily. If left untreated, the excess sugar in the blood can cause severe damage to the body and may even be fatal.
Complications that may result from type 1 diabetes include:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Eye retina changes or blindness
- Nerve disease
- Circulation issues
If your child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it’s important to understand that there is nothing you could have done to prevent it.
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not known. There may be a genetic link, as autoimmune conditions can sometimes be seen in families. Still, there is currently nothing that can be done to prevent the autoimmune process that attacks the insulin-producing beta cells or to prevent the onset of this form of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes often appears suddenly during childhood or infancy. Each child may experience symptoms differently, but the most common symptoms are:
- Increased and significant thirst
- Increased urination (babies may need very frequent diaper changes and toilet-trained children may start wetting themselves and/or wetting the bed more often)
- Increased appetite, but weight loss instead of gain
- Blurred vision
- Persistent nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Excess drowsiness or fatigue
- Irritability and mood changes
Type 1 diabetes is most often diagnosed in childhood and adolescence, but it can be diagnosed at any age. If you or your doctor suspect type 1 diabetes, your child’s doctor will order laboratory tests, including blood and urine tests, to diagnose diabetes. Laboratory tests can show the positive diabetes antibodies that are present with type 1 diabetes. Your pediatrician should also test your child’s blood sugar levels.
If these tests confirm diabetes, treatment must begin immediately.
If your child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she will require a brief hospital stay while blood sugars are controlled and a treatment plan is created. Your child will need to take daily insulin injections to replace the insulin her body no longer makes on its own. A healthy diet and regular exercise also help control blood sugar levels.
Specific treatment for type 1 diabetes will be determined by your child's diabetes team and may include:
- Attention to meal planning and carbohydrate counting
- A plan for exercise
- Regular daily blood testing
- Urine ketone testing as needed
- Learning about problem solving with blood sugars to keep diabetes under control
- Working with your child’s school and other caregivers to manage diabetes
Regular diabetes check-ups and routine screenings are highly recommended. These screening tests help you and the diabetes team take the best care of your child. Research has proven that children and teens with diabetes who see their diabetes team on a quarterly basis (four times per year) have better average blood sugars, fewer hospitalizations and healthier outcomes than children who only come once or twice a year.
Children with diabetes are at risk for developing complications and associated problems. At each visit to the Diabetes Center, your child is screened for:
- Growth problems based on height, weight, BMI
- High blood pressure
- Foot problems and changes in sensation
- Overall blood sugar control with a HbA1c
Once a year, your child will need to have extra screening tests to look for early signs of other complications. These tests include:
Some of the tests will be blood and urine tests. For others, you will need to make an appointment outside of the Diabetes Center.