What we generally know and refer to as juvenile diabetes is actually Type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition that for diabetics typically shows up in childhood. It involves the pancreas’s inability to produce insulin, or at least sufficient insulin for your body. And that’s a problem because insulin is a hormone needed by your body to allow sugar, or glucose, to enter your cells so as to produce energy.
Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms
Per mayoclinic.org, the signs and symptoms that are usually associated with Type 1 diabetes can show up suddenly. They include heightened thirst, frequent urination, bed-wetting in children who never showed it before, intense hunger, unintentional loss of weight, mood changes such as irritability, fatigue, weakness, and blurred vision. With July being Juvenile Diabetes Awareness Month, now is as good a time as any to be cognizant of the associated health issues.
In Search of a Diabetes Cause and Cure
If your child is experiencing some or all of those symptoms, it’s time to see their pediatrician or physician to be checked out and properly diagnosed. Scientists have been hard at work for decades researching diabetes and seeking a cure, but none has yet been identified.
Although researchers don’t know the exact cause of diabetes, it is believed that your immune system, which usually is tasked with fending off harmful viruses and bacteria – erroneously takes aim at the pancreatic islet cells responsible for producing insulin. Other causes can include genetics (see family history) and being exposed to viruses and various environmental factors.
What Is the Role of Insulin?
Insulin, per Mayo Clinic, is a hormone that originates from the pancreas, a sizable gland located behind and below your stomach. Once your pancreas produces insulin and releases it into your bloodstream, the insulin circulates, permitting blood sugar to enter your cells, in the process lowering the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. Simultaneous to the resultant drop in blood sugar, the amount of insulin being secreted from the pancreas drops as well.
A variety of insulins must be used to manage Type 1 diabetes, a condition that stays with a person for life (remember, there is no cure). This necessitates a lifelong treatment program in conjunction with the help of a medical team to help identify the proper insulin treatment tailormade for each affected individual. Per jdrf.org, insulin can be delivered or injected via syringes, pumps, or other artificial pancreas systems.
What Role Does Glucose Play in This?
Glucose, which is produced by the digestion of food you eat as well as by your liver, is a form of sugar that is the primary source of energy utilized by the cells that comprise your muscles and other tissues. Your liver subsequently stores glucose as glycogen to be used as needed by your body to help keep your glucose levels within a normal, healthy range.
When your glucose levels drop, such as when you haven’t eaten in a while, your liver breaks down the stored glycogen, converting it back into glucose to restore glucose to a normal level. Where it gets to be a problem with type 1 diabetes is when the lack of insulin means a loss of glucose being placed with cells. That results in an unwanted buildup of sugar in your bloodstream, possibly leading to life-threatening health issues.
Health Complications from Diabetes
Diabetics who are able to maintain healthy blood sugar levels – think insulin – can live a normal, healthy life; otherwise, without proper ongoing treatment and care, type 1 diabetes can eventually harm major organs in your body, to include the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys. Following are some of the health complications you could be looking at long term, per Mayo Clinic:
- Heart disease. This includes the blood vessels.
- Neuropathy (nerve damage). Too much sugar in your bloodstream can damage the walls of capillaries. Additionally, poorly controlled blood sugar can lead to the loss of feeling in affected limbs.
- Nephropathy (kidney damage). Diabetes can harm the kidney’s delicate filtering system. If it gets bad enough, the result can be kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease.
- Eye damage. This can include injuring the retina’s blood vessels as well as development of cataracts and glaucoma.
- Other complications can include foot damage, skin and mouth infections, and problems with pregnancies.
A Diabetes Management Plan
Treatment plans for a child’s type 1 diabetes can be formulated to meet their individual needs. There might be variations relative to the types of insulin given and the daily schedules for administering them, but almost all such treatment plans should include the following:
- Administration of insulin. Insulin is the only medicine we know of currently that can maintain a healthy range of blood sugar, per kidshealth.org. Proper doses of insulin will allow the proper use of glucose in the body for energy. Insulin can be injected with a needle or insulin pump. This part of the plan also includes counting carbs, per jdrf.org, as a proper insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio must be known in order to prepare the insulin dose to be injected.
- Healthy Eating and a Meal Plan. Meals must be properly balanced and meals timed in conjunction with the child’s prescribed insulin doses and their activity level. Again, the trick is regulating blood sugar levels, as eating food will cause those levels to rise, while insulin will do the opposite.
- Monitoring blood sugar levels. Must be checked regularly.
- Regular exercise. Regular physical activity helps control blood sugar levels while possibly lowering the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, per kidshealth.org.
Treating and managing type 1 diabetes can seem overwhelming, but it should be a team effort, healthcare professionals included. Just make sure the management plan is written down in terms easy enough for the child to understand and, as necessary, to implement himself or herself.