Discovering your child has diabetes is naturally a concern and shock for parents, as well as the child themselves.
Dr Sarah Jarvis offers advice to parents on childhood diabetes and managing the condition.
There are two main forms of diabetes – type 1 and type 2 – but it’s type 1 that is more common in children and young people.
According to the latest figures from
Diabetes UK, about 29,000 children and young people in the UK have been
diagnosed with diabetes. Of these, about 26,500 of them have type 1
Type 1 diabetes develops when the body can’t produce the hormone insulin.
Due to the lack of insulin, your body is unable to control the level of glucose in your blood, leaving you feeling exhausted and unwell.
As the body struggles to get energy, it begins to break down stores of protein and fat, which can result in weight loss.
“If a child develops diabetes, it’s almost always type 1 diabetes,” explains GP, Dr Sarah Jarvis. “This usually causes much more severe symptoms, over a much shorter time period, than type 2 diabetes.”
Signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes
There are recognisable signs to look out for that could signify that your child has diabetes and needs treatment.
“Your child is likely to feel thirsty all the time and drink large amounts of fluid. They’ll pass a lot of urine and may get up several times a night to go to the toilet,” explains Dr Jarvis. “They’ll probably feel very tired and generally unwell and may lose a noticeable amount of weight over a short period – days or weeks, rather than months.”
To make it easier to remember, Diabetes UK call these key signs the 4Ts:
- Toilet – going to the toilet a lot, heavier nappies in babies or bedwetting in a previously dry child.
- Thirsty – being really thirsty and unable to quench thirst.
- Tired – being more tired than usual.
- Thinner – losing weight or looking thinner than usual.
It’s important to seek advice from a doctor quickly if your child has possible symptoms of type 1 diabetes. “If these symptoms are recognised and treated, they should settle quickly, but in more severe cases or rapidly progressing cases, uncontrolled high blood sugar can cause your child to collapse and lose consciousness.”
Receiving a diagnosis of diabetes can understandably be a shock for both parents and children, even if you’re familiar with the condition.
In the first instance, your child is likely to be treated in hospital until their blood sugar is brought under control. Then doctors will help find the right dose of insulin for them and teach them and you about managing diabetes. This will include information about everything from learning to test blood glucose levels and give your child insulin injections, to discussing diet and exercise.
It can be scary and daunting learning to give insulin injections or support a child as they inject themselves, but once diagnosed type 1 diabetes can be effectively managed and there’s a lot of help available to support you.
A healthy diet is important for diabetics, but it’s also beneficial for the rest of the family and eating healthily together is one great way of supporting a child and managing their condition. “Chocolate and sweets can still be a treat for diabetic children, but may need to be combined with extra insulin,” advise Diabetes UK.
Parents of diabetics can positively manage the condition, advises Dr Jarvis, by:
- Knowing when to test blood glucose more – for example, when they’re unwell, before or after physical activity, or if they have symptoms of low or high blood sugar.
- Learning to recognise symptoms of low blood sugar (hypos), how to treat them (with glucose tablets or a non-diet drink) and when to seek help.
- Learning to recognise when blood sugar may be dangerously high (hypers).
Support is on hand
Managing your child’s diabetes needn’t be something you do alone – there is plenty of help and advice out there.
“Your paediatric diabetes specialist nurse is a key source of advice and information, and can often tell you who to contact if they aren’t the best person to deal with your query,” says Dr Jarvis.
As far as diet and eating habits go, “You will be referred to a specialist dietician who can work with you on identifying healthy diet choices and will be able to give you ongoing advice.”
Chat to your family and friends and ensure they know about your child’s condition, but encourage them not to treat them any differently. Also let your child’s school know and ensure they know who to contact and what to do if your child has any problems.
Organisations, such as Diabetes UK, are a good source of additional information and their helpline is available for any queries.
Although diabetes can’t be cured, with effective managements there’s ultimately no reason why your child can’t live a happy and healthy life.
Careline: 0845 120 2960
Find out more about the child health care options available to your family. You can also discover more information in our Pregnancy and Childcare Centre or if you have a specific question, you can ask our experts.