Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease with no known cause, although the medical community agrees that there are genetic and environmental components, and no cure. There are many myths surrounding the cause of diabetes, but rest assured that eating too much sugar during your pregnancy did not cause this condition in your infant child.
Diabetes is a classic autoimmune disease where the body attacks the beta cells in the pancreas responsible for producing the hormone called insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot utilize glucose in the bloodstream critical to providing food to the brain and fuel to the body’s cells and organs.
Roughly five percent of the 23.6 million people diagnosed with diabetes suffer from type 1. Although some people receive their diagnosis as adults, the majority are children and adolescents. Less than 10 percent diagnosed are under the age of five. Type 1 diabetes diagnosed in infancy is even less common, occurring in less than one percent of diabetics.
Signs and Symptoms
Type 1 diabetes diagnosed in infancy is uncommon in part because your child is unable to verbalize how she is feeling. Even when you do notice that something might be wrong, the symptoms of diabetes mimic many other childhood disorders. Signs to watch for include:
- Extreme hunger and/or thirst
- Overly wet diapers or needing frequent changes
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Weight loss or not gaining the proper amount of weight
- Genital yeast infection in female infants
If you suspect type 1 diabetes is the cause of your baby’s symptoms, consult your pediatrician as soon as possible. A preliminary diagnosis can be made through a simple blood test that consists of a single finger prick and a test to check your child’s urine for the presence of ketones. If the results come back positive, the doctor will most likely admit your baby to the hospital immediately for acute care. If the diagnosis from the finger prick is borderline, your pediatrician may order a follow-up blood test called a fasting plasma glucose test which will give a definitive diagnosis.
A diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in your infant may be difficult for you to come to grips with right away, but keep in mind that the disease is entirely manageable. You will face a few more challenges and hurdles because of your baby’s lack of verbal skills, but that will dissipate with time.
Older children and adults manage their diabetes through a combination of monitoring glucose levels, taking insulin injections, consuming a heart-healthy diet and including physical activity into their daily routine. You will take on the task of monitoring your child’s glucose levels several times each day and giving them their insulin injections.
Consult a pediatric nutritionist to determine whether breastfeeding is a better option than formula, and what type of diet you should be on if you do decide to nurse.
Normal blood glucose levels in diabetics range from 70 mg/dl to 110 mg/dl. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, occurs when blood glucose levels dip below 70 mg/dl. Sustained blood glucose levels above 110 mg/dl is considered hyperglycemia.
Episodes of prolonged hyperglycemia cause a variety of complications over time, including heart disease, nerve, eye and kidney damage and blindness. Making sure that your infant maintains stable blood glucose levels through the right balance of nourishment and insulin should help to avoid these complications.
Hypoglycemia, on the other hand, can become a very serious medical condition in a short period of time. When blood sugars are low, the brain becomes starved for food. If not treated quickly, permanent brain damage, seizures, coma or even death can result. Older children and adults with diabetes are able to recognize the warning signs of hypoglycemia and either treat it themselves or let others know what is going on.
Since your baby does not understand the signs of hypoglycemia and cannot verbalize, you should aim to keep his normal blood glucose levels on the higher end of normal in the 110 mg/dl to 120 mg/dl range. If your baby does become hypoglycemic, he may not want to eat – the one treatment that is sure to alleviate the condition. Keep emergency supplies on hand, including glucose gel and a glucagon. If your child becomes hypoglycemic and will not eat, simply dab some of the glucose gel onto your finger and swab the inside of his cheek with it. The glucose will be quickly absorbed into his body and blood glucose levels should rise.
This information is for educational purposes only. If you suspect that your child suffers from diabetes, seek professional medical attention immediately.
About Kids Health: Diabetes in Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers
eMedicine: Diabetes Mellitus Type 1
Health Central: Type 1 Diagnosis in Infants and Young Children
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Int’l: FAQs
Mayo Clinic: Type 1 Diabetes in Children
Image: Flickr - Brad.K