About 200,000 children in the United States have type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that occurs when a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood-sugar levels.
With early diagnosis and treatment of type 1 diabetes, children can stay out of the hospital, but a late diagnosis can lead to a life-threatening illness and can result in a child needing to be admitted to the intensive care unit, says UNC Health diabetes specialist Ali S. Calikoglu, MD.
“If we can get them in and diagnosed soon after symptoms begin, they are in good shape, but if they come in after they have had symptoms for six or more weeks, they are really very sick,” Dr. Calikoglu says.
Knowing the warning signs of type 1 diabetes is critical. Here’s what to look for:
1. Frequent urination and bed-wetting
If your child starts making several trips to the bathroom or wetting the bed frequently even though he or she is toilet trained, it may be a sign that his or her kidneys are working overtime to flush out excess sugar in the blood.
2. Excessive thirst
If your child is drinking more than usual (may be as much as a gallon), and if water isn’t quenching his or her thirst, this could be because of high blood sugar.
3. Extreme hunger
When blood sugar isn’t properly regulated, it sends conflicting messages to the brain about the need for food. It could be a red flag if your child experiences extreme hunger even after a meal.
When sugar cannot get into the cells to provide energy, this can leave the person with diabetes feeling weak and fatigued. If your child can’t keep his or her eyes open after a meal, it might be a sign that your child’s body is struggling with high blood sugar.
5. Blurry vision
Sugar lingering in the blood can cause swelling in the lens in the eye, making it difficult to focus the eyes. If your child finds that books, computer screens or handheld devices come in and out of focus at different times during the day, this can be an early sign of diabetes.
6. Unexplained weight loss
If your child is eating more but losing weight, or if your child eats the same amount and experiences sudden weight loss, this can be a warning sign of diabetes.
7. Fruity-smelling breath
If your kid’s breath smells fruity, it could indicate excess sugar in the blood.
8. Mood swings
If your child seems moodier or more restless than normal and has some of these other symptoms, diabetes could be a possible reason.
If you’re concerned that your child is showing signs of type I diabetes (also called juvenile diabetes), schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.
Talk to your child’s doctor if you’re concerned about his or her risk for diabetes. Need a doctor? Find one near you.