Health Mart Pharmacist Column

Diabetes in Children

Diabetes is no stranger to many children. A life-long disease causing high levels of blood sugar, diabetes is one of the most common chronic conditions in children and teens. Recent evidence suggests that a common family of viruses may help trigger diabetes, especially in children. Sadly, diabetes is becoming familiar to an increasing number of children. The nationís largest study of diabetes in young people found diabetes is on the rise in every racial and ethnic group studied.

What exactly is diabetes?

Often called juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder. This means the immune system goes a little haywire. It mistakenly destroys pancreas cells that make insulin, a hormone that normally helps the body make energy from food. People with this type of diabetes must take daily injections of insulin for life.

With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas cells still produce insulin, but they donít work the way they should. This type was formerly known as adult-onset diabetes because it mainly occurs in adults 40 and older. Now it is showing up in more and more children. Lifestyles that favor junk food and video games over exercise and healthy food choices may be a big part of the problem. Children or teens most at risk are overweight or obese and have a family history of the disease. American Indians, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders are also at increased risk.

Type 2 diabetes may be hard to detect in children. Thatís because they donít always have symptoms. Once diagnosed with blood tests, though, diabetes is often well managed with weight loss, exercise, and changes in diet.

When symptoms of diabetes do appear, they may include:

So whatís the big deal about diabetes? What damage can it cause? Left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious complications, such as:

Doctors once thought these complications were unavoidable. Today, we know that controlling blood sugar can reduce or prevent them altogether. Doing this well does involve some big changes for your child Ė and possibly the whole family. And getting your child or teen on board at first may be tough. But you can do it!

To begin, you must check your childís blood sugar often and keep accurate records. If your child takes insulin, youíre likely to check about four times a day, but you must test with either type of diabetes. Itís the only way to know what blood sugar levels are. You may need to do this more often on certain days, such as when your child is sick. Remember that our pharmacy staff can help answer your questions about these tests.

Managing diabetes well also involves exercise and meal planning. Your child will likely need to change what and when she or he eats. For example, healthy food choices require a careful balance and correct portion sizes of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. And, itís important for your child to eat meals and snacks timed around insulin peaks. Sound complicated? With time, both you and your child can master these lifestyle changes. And, you can do it without depriving your child or teen of sleepovers, family vacations, extracurricular activities, and fun with friends.