Pediatric Diabetes: What Parents Need to Know

pediatric diabetes, pediatric endocrinology: Mother helping son test blood sugar

Ask any parent what having a kid with the flu is like, and you’ll probably hear a simple answer: Awful. Now, imagine how a parent with a child who has a chronic disease feels. For families dealing with pediatric diabetes, it can be a nightmare.

Of the two types of diabetes, Type 1 may be the most concerning because it usually begins without warning. Across the United States, there are 1.25 million children living with Type 1 diabetes. That’s more than the combined populations of Tucson, Arizona, and Denver, Colorado in 2015.

For the parents out there who are understandably concerned, Rachel Calendo, a nurse practitioner and pediatric diabetes program manager at Cardon Children’s Medical Center, offered some insight on what parents should be on the lookout for.

“The typical signs and symptoms of both types of diabetes are similar,” Calendo said. “Usually, Type 1 has more dramatic symptoms and can be life-threatening if ignored. The most common are significantly increased thirst, urination and hunger. Other hallmark signs are weight loss, lethargy and, if progressing further to diabetic ketoacidosis, vomiting.”

Do you know the differences between the two types of diabetes?

  • Type 1 — is autoimmune, causing the body to attack its own insulin-producing cells. This leads to a lack of needed insulin production in the body.

There is nothing that can be done to prevent Type 1 diabetes, but early recognition and ongoing treatment is imperative for these children to live long, healthy and normal lives. Insulin by injection or via insulin pump is the only treatment.

  • Type 2 — is not autoimmune. It has a genetic component and is caused by insulin resistance. Typically, kids who get Type 2 diabetes have a high BMI or are obese, but that isn’t always the case. Another key difference is that their bodies can still produce insulin early on in the disease, but they aren’t always capable of responding to it.

Treatment includes: healthy eating, daily physical activity and medication taken by mouth that can help to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

What can parents do to prevent pediatric diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. You can only treat it using insulin and monitoring technologies. But, that doesn’t mean your child can’t have a normal outlook.

However, you can prevent or significantly delay Type 2 pediatric diabetes. By working with your child’s pediatrician or a dietitian, you can help establish lifelong healthy habits early on. An important key to the prevention of Type 2 diabetes is to maintain an active lifestyle. In kids, this could look like having them participate in organized sports throughout the year, making it a point to be active as a family on a daily basis or even something as simple as ensuring your children play outside each day.

“By meeting the goals set for glucose control, children with diabetes can often prevent complications,” Calendo said. She also stressed the importance of support systems that extend beyond providers and pediatric endocrinologists.

Diabetes educators, there specifically to guide families caring for little ones with diabetes, can be immensely helpful, especially as parents and their children are first learning what to expect.

To learn more information about pediatric diabetes and the resources available when it comes to caring for a child with either type of diabetes, call Banner’s diabetes education team at (480) 412-4557.

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