Juvenile Diabetes: Diagnosis, Treatment and Coping When Your Child has Diabetes

Does Your Child Have Diabetes? An Overview of What Happens to Your Body

Childhood diabetes, also known as Juvenile Diabetes or, today, more commonly as Type 1 diabetes is a serious condition that requires immediate, consistent medical treatment. But the diagnosis is often missed because the symptoms can easily be overlooked or mistaken for another malady.

Each day in the United States, another 80 people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Today, more than 3 million people in the U.S. are living with the disease. There is no cure, and the patient will be insulin-dependent (via shots or insulin pump) for the rest of their life. More children than adults are initially diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which results from a malfunctioning auto-immune response to illness or significant stress.1 The body attacks itself, killing the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

Without insulin, a person cannot survive long. Insulin is the hormone that "unlocks" our body's cells so that glucose (blood sugar from carbohydrates that we ingest) can be used for energy. Without adequate insulin, blood sugars build up to dangerous levels and must be expelled from the body as waste. The child goes into starvation mode because nutrients from food are not being utilized. This is why an undiagnosed diabetic is thirsty all the time, urinates more frequently and loses significant amounts of weight very quickly.

Without energy from food, the body begins breaking down muscle for energy, releasing acids called ketones into the blood (ketoacidosis). As blood chemistry becomes more and more acidic, the child risks coma or death unless the high blood sugars are treated by administering proper doses of insulin.

If you suspect your child may have juvenile diabetes, do not "wait and see." Immediately take them to the doctor or emergency room for a simple blood test that could save their life!

1Note, however, that I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 34. While this is unusual, it still may occur. So, watch for warning signs of diabetes, described below, at any age.

Diabetic Kids will need to Test Blood Sugar Regularly

Testing blood glucose levels of Juvenile Diabetic patients
Testing blood glucose levels of Juvenile Diabetic patients | Source

Symptoms of Juvenile Diabetes

Unlike Type 2 diabetes, which progressively develops over time, Type 1/Juvenile diabetes comes on very suddenly. Your child may be healthy one week, and just 7-10 days later could be in the hospital as a result of childhood diabetes.

When the body is working to fight off an infection, or heal from another injury, it releases antibodies to fight infection. With an autoimmune disorder like Type 1 diabetes, something goes wrong and the body mistakenly attacks healthy cells as well.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of juvenile diabetes are often missed as a result because parents and caregivers may assume that the child is just trying to get better from the original condition.

Symptoms of juvenile diabetes include the following, some or all of which may be present:

  • Dramatic weight loss (5-10% of body weight) in a short period of time
  • Excessive thirst
  • Bed wetting, frequent urination, regression to diapers
  • Lethargy, very tired despite adequate sleep
  • Irritability
  • Increased appetite - when coupled with weight loss - that is not explained
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Heavy, labored breathing
  • Fainting/unconsciousness

If your child exhibits a combination of these symptoms, particularly over a period of several days to a week, you should immediately have a blood sugar (blood glucose) test to determine whether diabetes is present.

A nondiabetic person will have blood sugars in the range of 80-120 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter). Your child's doctor will diagnose juvenile diabetes with a blood sugar level of over 150 mg/dl (fasting - i.e., overnight) or over 200 mg/dl 2 hours after a meal.

Often, pre-diagnosis levels of blood sugars can be dangerous high. My levels were 450-550 mg/dl at the time of diagnosis. My cousin was over 700 mg/dl when he was diagnosed at age 9 with Type 1 diabetes. At these levels, a child will likely be hospitalized for several days or longer to stabilize blood sugar levels and determine proper dosing of insulin.

We need to Find a Cure for Juvenile Diabetes

Treatment of Juvenile Diabetes

After a diagnosis of juvenile diabetes, the patient and his or her family will meet with a team of doctors and other medical professionals to determine proper treatment, based on individual factors.

A diabetes team consists of:

  • Endocrinologist - a doctor specializing in endocrine disorders like diabetes
  • Pediatrician
  • Nutritionist - to help with planning healthy meals and snacks to stabilize blood sugars
  • Nurse or nurse practitioner
  • Diabetes educator - to work with the patient and their family to learn how to properly test blood sugars at home and administer shots or use an insulin pump

You may also wish to consider a family counselor or psychiatrist to help deal with feelings of grief or overwhelm. Although juvenile diabetes is very manageable and patients can usually live long lives notwithstanding the disease, many parents and caregivers experience fear and anxiety in the months following a diagnosis.

Treatment of juvenile diabetes will require multiple daily injections of insulin. Because the body is incapable of making the hormone itself, it must be administered externally, either through needles, or via an infusion site on the abdomen along with an insulin pump.

Your diabetes team will prescribe ratios of insulin to carbohydrates for your child, to help you determine how much medication is required, based on the food to be ingested (for me, 1 unit of insulin covers 15 grams of carbohydrates).

They will also establish an insulin sensitivity level to help you figure out how much insulin is required to drop your child's high blood sugar levels to healthy levels (for me, 1 unit of insulin drops me 80 points; to get back to 100 mg/dl from a reading of 300, I will take about 2.5 units of insulin).

Insulin dosing will change over time, as your child matures and goes through puberty. Illness and other stressors will temporarily increase the need for insulin, as well. Be sure to ask your child's endocrinologist about required adjustments.

In order to determine how much insulin to take at each meal, whether insulin is required to address hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), or whether a low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) event must be treated with fruit juice or sugar tabs, a diabetic child will have to test blood sugar with a meter and lancet at least 4-6 times per day.

Prescriptions for a diabetic patient will include: diabetes meter, lancet, blood sugar test strips, insulin, syringes (even with a pump you will need back up), ketone test strips (for urine), and pump supplies - along with an insulin pump.

Brave Young Kids Share Their Stories About Living with Diabetes

Lifestyle Changes to Make with Juvenile Diabetes

Any one that is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, or has a child that has been diagnosed with the disease should make several changes, most of which are not difficult to make - even though they require some forethought.

Diet should eliminate white bread, rice and pasta and replace with 100% whole grain options. Sugary desserts and candy should be reserved for special occasions, only. Soda and fruit juice can be kept on hand to address hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), but should not otherwise be consumed.

The following foods are very difficult for diabetics to process without experiencing high blood sugar: pizza, french fries, potato chips, Chinese food, macaroni and cheese, Chicken Alfredo, white sauces/soups (clam chowder), sourdough bread, regular jello, ice cream. An older teen or young adult should avoid consuming alcoholic beverages.

A child with juvenile diabetes will have to get used to testing blood sugar frequently and making insulin and/or nutrition adjustments accordingly. It is advisable to test before bed and first thing in the morning, too.

Get adequate sleep, keep stress at manageable levels, exercise frequently, and watch glucose levels more carefully during illness.

Four Year Old Diabetic Child Uses an Insulin Pump

FAQ About Diabetes in Children

Q: Can my child eat any sugar with diabetes?

A: It depends. Provided that proper insulin dosing is administered and the child is otherwise healthy, sugar may be enjoyed - with doctor's permission - as an occasional treat. Excessive sugar or simple carbohydrates are not recommended, however.

Q: Can my child participate in sports with diabetes?

A: Generally yes. A very active child will need to test blood sugars more frequently to ensure that low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) does not result. Your child's diabetes team should recommend specific insulin pump settings and nutrition schedules during the times they are active in sports/

Q: Can a child with diabetes go to birthday parties?

A: Again, it depends. If your child is healthy and their diabetes is well-managed, they should be able to participate in most activities enjoyed by classmates. However, any activity to which you send your child - whether a birthday party, scout meeting, play date or sleepover - should be accompanied with written instructions to the adult in charge, glucose tablets and/or juice in case of hypoglycemia, and an emergency phone number.

Q: Will my child outgrow his or her diabetes?

A: No. Type 1/juvenile diabetes is not currently curable. Insulin helps treat the disease, but it is a permanent condition; the pancreas is unable to be re-generated to begin producing insulin again.

Q: Is diabetes fatal?

A: Left untreated, or poorly managed, diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2) can lead to death. Hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia - blood sugar extremes at either end - may result in fainting, loss of consciousness or coma. Over time, damage from poorly managed diabetes can affect eyesight, cause heart disease or stroke. Diabetes should not be underestimated.

Yet, most children diagnosed with juvenile diabetes today have the prospect of a very long life. Most complications occur later in life, after one has lived with the disease for years. Diabetes-related deaths in children and young adults are often attributable to combining insulin with alcoholic beverages, or due to an insulin reaction from taking too much medication.

Consistent testing and control is the key to a healthy life with diabetes!

© 2012 Stephanie Hicks

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Comments 23 comments

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

Thanks for this well-done post on juvenile diabetes. Helpful to anyone needing or wanting to understand this condition better, this will be a useful resource for many people. Voted up.


BlissfulWriter profile image

BlissfulWriter 4 years ago

Is late-onset Type 1 diabetes characterized by being very skinny? As opposed to adult-onset type 2 which is characterized by obesity.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

What a wonderful, comprehensive and informative treatment of a really important subject. Too many people do not understand the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and what it is important to watch for in children. You are performing a really important public service with this one. Voting up, useful and awesome.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks you guys! I have had diabetes on the mind recently as my elderly grandfather is dealing with severe complications of Type 2 diabetes. Although the onset of Type 1 and Type 2 are different, the end result/condition can be very similar.

@Blissful writer - that is an excellent question. No, body shape/size has nothing to do with Type 1. It is an internal "malfunction," if you will. Its not very heriditary, although there are markers that indicate whether a child is carrying a specific antibody that MAY (not will) result in developing Type 1 at some age. Also, a child of any age -from newborn to teenager, or older - can develop Juvenile Diabetes/Type 1 diabetes. Thanks, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Robie,

Thank you! I think the most important difference between the two diseases to stress is the sudden onset of Type 1. That, plus the fact that it is life threatening right from the start if not treated and controlled. There is no such thing as "pre-diabetes" with Type 1/Juvenile Diabetes. Appreciate the comment and vote up - Best, Steph


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

This guide, your explanation of the condition, your advice, the information... EVERYTHING is amazing! I am so glad you've created this. What a resource! While I don't have any personal contacts with Type 1 Diabetes, it's really good to know more about it. Thank you, stephhicks68!


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 4 years ago from Northern, California

Fantastic Diabetes resource Guide! I agree 100% with your statement, "Diabetes should not be underestimated." Outstanding information on what is happening inside the body when diabetes attacks. Your list symptoms to look for is priceless. This one is tops on my list Steph!

Thanks for sharing such an important topic.

HubHugs~

K9


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Great information. I see children all the time that are suffering from this disease. My heart goes out to the children and families enduring this illness. Your suggestions, guides and facts will help many and answer questions. Voted up!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Simone - I am glad to share my personal information, as well as depth of knowledge on the topic of diabetes, especially Type 1 diabetes. Appreciate the comment - best! Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi K9,

If I can help just one family that is dealing with a juvenile diabetes diagnosis, I will be happy. The statement that diabetes should not be underestimated is a strong one, and meant to be so. Many people do not understand the seriousness of the disease - even my friends will comment to me that I "don't look sick." It takes constant monitoring and management to keep kids and other patients with the disease healthy. Cheers to you, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi teaches,

I will never forget when I took my son to a birthday party several years ago at one of those inflatable bouncing house places. A mom dropped off her 8 year old son who was newly diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. All the activity caused his blood sugars to drop and fortunately, I was there to help get him some juice and have him sit for 15-20 minutes before re-testing his sugar. Type 1 diabetes does affect many kids and their families - it is important to learn how to manage the disease for best health. Thanks much, Steph


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK

I had no idea type 1 diabetes could develop as late as 34. I’m not sure now what I did think, but probably that you either had it or you didn’t. Your hub has certainly cleared up my ignorance.

My heart goes out to all those little children (and to you) having to have blood test several times a day. My second daughter had many similar tests as a baby because of prematurity, and they didn’t seem much fun.

Voted up.

This is a very useful hub, with loads of information that I hope I never need to use!


everythingdazzles profile image

everythingdazzles 4 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

My brother has has type 1 since he was 16 years old. He is a pump now. Useful hubs!


poshcoffeeco profile image

poshcoffeeco 4 years ago from Cambridgeshire

stephhicks68, what a fantastic hub. This must have taken ages to put out.Brilliant information and a must read for anyone who is searching for Diabetes information.


algarveview profile image

algarveview 4 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

Hello, Steph, great hub on diabetes, very thourough, very interesting, great idea the FAQ. Have a friend whose five year old child has diabetes, I'll show her your hub because I think it will be really helpful.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks to you all! Yes, diabetes is complicated and can be difficult to understand. There is definitely a learning curve with a new diagnosis. Thank you for sharing with people who have a child (or themselves) with Type 1/juvenile diabetes. Best - Steph


kelleyward 4 years ago

Stephhicks, I have type 1 diabetes and get frustrated with how the media and sometimes doctors confuse the public into thinking diabetes is diabetes. There is a huge difference between type 1 and type 2. Thank you for this very informative article on type 1 diabetes. I really enjoyed the videos!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Kelley,

I am totally with you there! Many of my friends do not understand (e.g., you aren't overweight, why do you have diabetes?) and I do think its because the media focuses on Type 2, under the generalized topic of "diabetes," overlooking and failing to distinguish Type 1 diabetes. Thank you for the comment - best to you, Steph


Sinea Pies profile image

Sinea Pies 4 years ago from Northeastern United States

Stephhicks68,I've known several young people with diabetes and it's been a scary thing. These tips on how to identify it quickly are so important...it can save lives. Thank you.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Sinea, You are right - you cannot wait for several days or a week to see if a child gets better. Juvenile Diabetes is treatable, but must be diagnosed ASAP. Thank you for the comment - all the best, Steph


Jakobah 4 years ago

Very useful information.


wordscribe43 profile image

wordscribe43 4 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

GREAT hub! I worked as a medical social worker at Emanuel Children's Hospital here, in the Endocrinology Clinic. So I have a very soft spot in my heart for juvenile diabetes. We saw so many kids coming into the emergency room with diabetic ketoacidosis... they didn't even know they had diabetes. In fact, a couple died... just heartbreaking. Early detection is KEY. People don't know what to look for and the symptoms can be so subtle. That's why this is such a great hub. Best wishes, Laura


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Wow Laura, that must have been so stressful seeing the sick kids come in like that! You are right that early detection is key, and parents simply cannot wait to treat a child with juvenile diabetes. Go with the gut and press for a blood test if a doctor sends a child home that has the "flu." Thank you for the comment - all the best, Steph

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