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Navigating Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes: A Guide for Parents

Sarah Kaddour · June 22, 2020

Type 1 diabetes, sometimes known as juvenile diabetes, is a condition that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas, causing insulin production to stop. Without insulin, blood sugar cannot enter cells, so it remains in the bloodstream causing higher than normal blood sugar levels. While there are various types of diabetes, type 1 differs from other forms, such as type 2, in that there is no definitive cause or a known cure. Although it can develop at any age, type 1 diabetes is often referred to as juvenile diabetes because it typically manifests in children and young adults, with the peak age of diagnosis being 14 years old. While you can’t prevent your child from developing juvenile diabetes, early intervention can help reduce risks of serious complications and provide better health outcomes.

What are the symptoms of juvenile diabetes?

Identifying type 1 diabetes in children involves recognizing some of its early signs and symptoms, which include:

  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination (sometimes bedwetting)
  • Increased thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fruity-smelling breath

If you notice any of these changes in behavior in your child, you should consult a pediatrician or other medical professional right away to determine if they are symptoms of type 1 juvenile diabetes.

How is type 1 diabetes detected in children?

First, it’s important to note that symptoms of diabetes in children can manifest suddenly, or on the contrary, may take months or years to appear. In the latter case, especially, it’s important to acknowledge the risk factors associated with type 1 juvenile diabetes to help detect the condition sooner. The following are risk factors to be aware of:

  • Genetics: Although there is no exact cause, having a genetic predisposition can increase your child’s likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes. Certain genetic markers—particularly genes that impact the immune system—can contribute to a higher susceptibility of diabetes.
  • Family history: Having a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes can put your child at a greater risk for developing the condition, even more so if both parents have diabetes. Additionally, numerous studies suggest that children have a 15 times higher risk of being diagnosed with diabetes than someone with no family history.
  • Viruses and Other Autoimmune Conditions: In some cases, certain viruses such as measles, mumps, Coxsackie B, and rotavirus, as well as autoimmune conditions like Graves’ disease, multiple sclerosis, and pernicious anemia, may trigger the onset of juvenile diabetes as they mistakenly cause the body’s immune system to attack itself.

An awareness of these risk factors can help your child receive an early diagnosis. To appropriately determine if your child has diabetes, a doctor will need to perform blood tests to check for elevated glucose levels. The most common blood tests used to diagnose diabetes include a random plasma glucose (RPG) test, glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test, and fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test. If these tests indicate that your child has high blood sugar and, thus, diabetes, their doctor will likely perform additional tests to determine if your child has type 1 diabetes versus type 2.

What are my child’s treatment options for type 1 juvenile diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes has no cure and calls for consistent management to keep blood sugar levels in the normal range. Most notably, treating juvenile diabetes requires:

  • Frequent blood sugar monitoring; four to ten times a day
  • Daily insulin; given by injection or insulin pump
  • A healthy, balanced diet; being mindful of carbohydrate intake
  • Regular physical activity; at least 60 minutes per day

As a parent, you will play a significant role in helping your child manage their type 1 diabetes during their formative years so that they can continue to care for themselves into adulthood adequately.

Disclaimer: The information provided is intended to be general information, and is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to take the place of examination, treatment, or consultation with a physician. Please consult a physician if you suspect your child needs urgent or emergent care.