Diabetes in Children
To observe World Diabetes Day, Founder of Diapoint Pamela Durant sheds light on her son’s journey and misconceptions around diabetes. Here she offers advice on symptoms parents need to keep an eye out for, that could be mistaken as the flu
Tell us about your personal experience?
My son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 20-months old. We noticed he was drinking more water than usual, but as it was August, I assumed it was a result of the Dubai heat. When he started to fill his diapers and go backwards in his toilet training, I knew something was off. He was scheduled for a checkup the following week, but as his water consumption and urination increased, I changed the date of the check up to the next day instead of the following week. I am so glad I did that because it probably saved his life.
Has the journey been quite challenging for you, since it was all new and you don’t have a family history of Diabetes?
A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes is shocking at any age. And while you are digesting the shock of it all, there is a steep learning curve that you have to conquer at the same time to keep your child healthy and alive. Even though my husband was trained as a physician and I worked in healthcare management for years, there was, and is, nothing that can really prepare anyone for such a diagnosis until you have to live with it.
Could you explain Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and some of the misconceptions around both?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where, for reasons unknown, the immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is the hormone that enables glucose to enter the cells in our bodies to become energy. It used to be known as juvenile diabetes, but adults can get it too. It cannot be prevented, and there is no cure.
Type 2 diabetes is what the majority of people with diabetes have. The body can make insulin but becomes insulin resistant. It may be managed with diet and exercise. Sometimes medication is required. It is typically seen in adults, but there are now cases among young adults and some pre-diabetes cases in adolescence.
I must say, people are quick to judge a child with Type1 diabetes – that they ate the wrong thing, that the mother fed them the wrong thing, or ate too many sweets when she was pregnant. The same goes for Type 2 diabetics as well. Many are skeptical when I inform them that the only thing that will keep my son alive is insulin. It is also a misconception that children with Type1 diabetes should be on a special diet or treated differently than their peers. Sometimes children with diabetes are excluded from activities or parties because people assume they cannot participate. This is far from the truth.
Should parents look out for certain symptoms in their children?
Yes. There are symptoms that are often mistaken for flu, urinary tract infections or other conditions. The first signs are often frequent urination because of the unquenchable thirst that someone with high blood sugar experiences. This is the body’s reaction to try to flush out the sugar in the body due to the lack of insulin. High blood sugars also cause nausea and vomiting. Children often loose a lot of weight before diagnosis and can feel very tired. Even some of the best physicians may first think of flu – particularly in flu season. Other symptoms include increased hunger, lack of concentration, tingling in the hands or feet, a fruity smell on the breath, blurred vision, fast or heavy breathing. If a child has any of these symptoms, they need to see a pediatric endocrinologist immediately.
How do you treat Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?
Someone with Type 1 diabetes is insulin dependent for life. They must replace the insulin that the body cannot produce. It may be given via injections, or from an insulin pump. Type 2 diabetes may be managed with diet and exercise. Sometimes medication is required. No two people with diabetes are alike though, so the method for managing or how much medication is needed will vary from person to person.
Are there any other complications for both?
There are many complications that can result from diabetes. Some of the more common ones include eye damage (retinopathy), nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney disease, heart disease and stroke. These are the results of unmanaged diabetes and high blood sugars over time.
For someone with Type 1 Diabetes, they are at risk for these, as well as something called Diabetes Ketoacidosis (DKA). This is a build-up of acid in the blood when blood sugar remains too high for too long. It can cause severe damage to the body’s organs, and even result in death. This is why it is so critical for parents to know the signs and symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes. Undiagnosed Type1 Diabetes can result in the death of a child. Children with Type 1 diabetes can also experience low blood sugars. These can result in seizures, loss of consciousness, or even death.
Should parents notify the school or school nurse?
Parents should definitely notify the school nurse and their child’s teachers if their child has diabetes. They need to understand the symptoms and signs of high and low blood sugars so that they can take action and immediately notify the school nurse of an urgent situation when needed. It can save a life. Do not be afraid to speak with the school nurse while touring the school, to learn if they have experience with the condition. The school nurse has the most critical role in supporting a child with diabetes at school. Particularly in younger children who cannot yet self manage, the nurse will be the one that will check blood sugars and administer insulin at school based on what is prescribed by the child’s doctor. The school nurse is someone that the parent of a child with Type1 diabetes will communicate with daily.
Advice for parents whose children are newly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes
A diagnosis of Type1 Diabetes is shocking and devastating. But, the good news is that this is a manageable condition. It takes a lot of hard work and arming yourself with the best medical information that you can find is key. We are fortunate that now in the UAE there are many good doctors and centres that have the ability to support children with diabetes and their families on this journey. Teaming with a doctor and medical team that are knowledgeable about the condition is critical to one’s success in managing diabetes. A person can live a full life with diabetes. My son will be 11 in just a few months. I am happy to report that he is very happy and healthy. Diabetes does not stop him from doing anything.
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