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DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I recently noticed that my 7 year old daughter drank more water than usual, although her activity has not increased. A neighbor mentioned that I should have her checked for diabetes. My daughter is neither overweight nor does she eat excessive amounts of sugar. Should I take her to her doctor?
ANSWER: Hydration is important for adults and children. But when children act abnormally, it is logical to be concerned about their health. You should contact your daughter’s pediatrician or primary care provider to discuss changes that may indicate a more serious condition.
More than 34 million Americans live with diabetes. And many of them are children and adolescents. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year, cases of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are increasing in the United States under the age of 20. Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adolescents and is the result of the body’s inability to properly process sugar or glucose.
Most of the sugar in people’s bodies comes from the food they eat. When food is digested, sugar enters the bloodstream. The hormone insulin is required to transport sugar from the bloodstream to the cells of the body. People with diabetes do not have insulin or cannot process insulin.
There are two types of diabetes in children.
Type 1 diabetes, which is most common in children, is an autoimmune disease in which the body stops producing insulin. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, but it can be managed. Advances in blood sugar and insulin delivery monitoring have improved blood sugar management and the quality of life in children with type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes is not caused by being overweight, having too much sugar, or too little physical activity.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease that also affects the way the body processes sugar. However, this type is caused by obesity. Although type 2 diabetes is more common in adults, an increasing number of children are affected due to the obesity epidemic. However, most children do not develop type 2 diabetes before puberty.
While the exact cause of type 2 diabetes is unknown, family history and genetics appear to play important roles. Inactivity and excess fat, especially fat around the abdomen, also seem to be important factors. Often times, changes in diet and exercise are enough to manage type 2 diabetes in children. However, some children may need oral medications and insulin treatment.
Although diabetes may not run in your family, it is still possible that your daughter will develop childhood diabetes. You should talk to her about other signs or symptoms that you may not have noticed or that she may not have mentioned. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of the disease can help get an earlier diagnosis and ultimately a chance for a better outcome.
Increased thirst and urination are often the first signs that something is wrong. Excess sugar that builds up in your child’s bloodstream draws fluid out of the tissues. As a result, your child will become more thirsty – and drink more, and use the bathroom more than usual.
Other symptoms for children can include fatigue, weight loss, and increased hunger. The lack of sugar in their cells can lead to children becoming exhausted. If you find that your daughter is showing signs of fatigue but has not increased her activity, this is an area of concern. Also, some children may lose weight because they are no longer able to store what they eat without putting insulin in their bodies. So, weight loss can be another sign of diabetes.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes tend to develop quickly in young people. Type 2 diabetes symptoms develop over time and can come on so gradually that you won’t notice. In children with type 2 diabetes, other symptoms may include blurred vision and dark areas of skin, especially around the neck or armpits.
Young people with diabetes are at greater risk of health problems throughout their lives. Complications from diabetes can include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, an increased risk of stroke and kidney disease, and other conditions.
Even if your daughter has no other signs of diabetes, you should call her pediatrician or health care provider to determine what next steps to take. He or she can recommend blood and urine tests. If your daughter is diagnosed with diabetes, you will likely be referred to a pediatric endocrinologist for ongoing treatment. If she turns out to be at high risk or on the verge of diabetes, you should also meet with a specialist to develop a proactive plan for reducing her risk for the future.
As scary as it sounds, when a child is diagnosed with diabetes, the disease is manageable and patients can continue to be active and have a good quality of life.
Does your child have diabetes?
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Quote: Questions and Answers: Diabetes in Children (2021, April 2), accessed April 2, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-04-qa-childhood-diabetes.html
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