Understanding type 1 diabetes

Published by Baby Bunting on Monday, January 28, 2019

Type 1 diabetes (also called juvenile diabetes) is a condition where the body cannot produce or has difficulty producing insulin. Insulin is required to process glucose, one of the body's main energy sources, and this can lead to significant health complications if not treated. Fortunately, the mechanisms of type 1 diabetes are well-understood and diligent management and treatment is effective.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to convert glucose – a simple sugar – into energy. If the body cannot convert glucose, it builds up in the bloodstream causing high blood sugar. This can cause severe health problems in children and adults.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the body attacks the pancreatic cells that make insulin. Type 1 diabetes occurs in about one in 10 people with diabetes.

What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is associated with lifestyle factors, such as being overweight, eating a poor diet and a lack of exercise. It is more common in teenagers and adults but can develop in children too. Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can be successfully reversed with lifestyle changes.

What are the risk factors for type 1 diabetes?

Some of the risk factors for a child developing or inheriting type 1 diabetes include:

  • a family history of type 1 diabetes
  • a genetic predisposition to developing type 1 diabetes
  • ethnicity – children from some backgrounds experience higher rates of type 1 diabetes
  • exposure to certain viruses while very young.

What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?

Some of the early warning signs that your child might have type 1 diabetes include:

  • weight loss
  • fatigue and lethargy
  • mood swings
  • excessive fluid intake
  • excessive urination and bed-wetting
  • excessive hunger
  • itchy skin
  • blurred vision
  • nausea and dizziness
  • vomiting
  • slow healing cuts and scratches
  • leg cramps.

What are the complications associated with type 1 diabetes?

Untreated type 1 diabetes can lead to a range of sudden and chronic health complications. Some of these include:

  • vision impairment
  • kidney damage
  • sexual impotence
  • nerve damage
  • poor circulation, which can lead to amputation
  • an increased risk of heart disease and strokes
  • vulnerability to infection

Managing and living with type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes can be managed by having daily insulin injections. Without these injections, the body will convert energy from fat stores and produce excessive amounts of ketones – which is dangerous to the body in high concentrations.

If your child is panting or rapidly becoming drowsy and confused, you must call an ambulance and seek urgent medical attention.

The symptoms of and complications associated with type 1 diabetes can be managed with behavioural and diet modifications. Seek early diagnosis with a doctor to ensure you have the right medicine and management plan to keep your child healthy.

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