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Pediatric Health

Defending Against Diabetes

Understanding the Importance of Early Diagnosis

November 01, 2010
It's not unlikely that in your child's school there's at least one child – probably more – with type 1 diabetes. With one in 500 children diagnosed with the lifelong disease, type 1 diabetes has grown in prevalence in recent years.

Yet, it's far from the debilitating diagnosis it was once feared to be.

"Type 1 diabetes is certainly an adjustment for any child or adult, but you can still have a normal lifestyle with diabetes. It's just a new normal that you create," says Samar Rahhal, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist with the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent.

Understanding type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes – with no known cause but a genetic disposition to develop it – causes high blood sugar, reducing the body's ability to make insulin. This poses problems because the body needs insulin so glucose in the blood can enter the cells of the body where it can be used for energy.

If left untreated over a long period of time, high blood sugar levels can cause serious Health problems, such as heart and kidney problems, vision and nerve problems.

Signs and symptoms

Increased thirst and frequent urination are often two common signs that a child has developed type 1 diabetes.

"A key indicator of type 1 diabetes is frequent urination and in larger amounts, as well as bedwetting, particularly if the child hasn't done that before or in a very long time," says Dr. Rahhal. "And because a child may be losing so much fluid from urinating a lot, he or she may also be very thirsty and drinking huge amounts every hour or so."

Dr. Rahhal says that if the symptoms go undiagnosed long enough, it's not uncommon for weight loss to occur. When there isn't enough insulin being produced to help the body use glucose, the body reacts by breaking down muscle and stored fat instead in an attempt to provide fuel to hungry cells. As a result, a child may feel more tired than normal as well.

Creating the new normal

Children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin throughout their life. While regimens may vary, shots are generally given three times a day at mealtimes and once at bedtime.

Yet, the daily occurrence of insulin shots is not something that should hamper a child's activity and play.

"We work with every family to develop a regimen that allows for flexibility in the timing as well as the content of meals," says Dr. Rahhal. "Kids can still do sports and be physically active—in fact, we encourage it because then they'll be healthier overall."

While there are not really any particular food restrictions with type 1 diabetes, patients with diabetes learn how to count the number of carbohydrates in their meals and dose their insulin accordingly.

The key to successfully managing type 1 diabetes is regular communication—between parent and child, parent and other caregivers, such as teachers or babysitters, and between the family and their health care provider.


Diabetes Awareness Day at Children's Museum

In recognition of Diabetes Awareness Day on November 13, Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent is hosting a special diabetes education event on November 7 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Held in conjunction with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the event will provide free education tools for parents, caregivers and children living with diabetes. To register, call 317-469-9604 ext. 4.

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Tags: Health, Infant & Baby, Kids

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