Diabetes mellitus is a condition that occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, which is required to turn sugar into an energy form usable by cells. Without insulin, sugar remains in the bloodstream.
High blood sugar can have dangerous complications, and in the worst-case scenarios, diabetes can be fatal. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is key to preventing permanent damage.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when a child’s body doesn’t produce insulin anymore, and the insulin must be replaced through medications since it’s necessary for survival. Type 2 diabetes is less common in children, and it occurs when the body doesn’t produce adequate insulin.
Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be reversed, and it can often be controlled through diet and exercise. However, when diet and exercise aren’t enough, medication might be necessary to help manage blood sugar.
5 Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes in Children
Get to know the major signs and symptoms of diabetes seen in children now.
1. Increased Urination and Thirst
When sugar builds up to toxic levels in the bloodstream, it removes fluid from the tissues of the child’s body, causing the tissues to become dehydrated because of their lower fluid content. As a result, children might experience much greater thirst than they usually do.
And since they will typically increase the amount of liquid they’re drinking to compensate, their urination habits may change as well.
Children may need to urinate more frequently, to the point it might be disruptive to their learning, extracurricular activities, or comfort at home. Type 2 diabetes is unlikely to develop in very young children, but type 1 may develop.
If the child is young and has recently been toilet trained, they might suddenly start wetting the bed or having accidents again.
Occasional bed wetting is normal for young children, but if it happens with unusual frequency, or it starts when the child previously didn’t have a problem, parents should talk to their child’s pediatrician.
2. Unexplained Weight Loss
When individuals eat, the sugar in their food is converted into energy, which is used by their cells. Any energy not used at the time is stored in the form of fat cells. The fat on an individual’s body is just stored energy they can use later.
However, diabetes prevents sugar from being converted into energy and fat storage. This means children aren’t receiving the energy they need or storing fat, which leads to extreme weight loss.
Parents will typically notice their child losing weight even if they haven’t changed their eating habits or exercise routine.
Type 2 diabetes is less likely to cause weight loss since the body can still convert some energy. Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, can lead to rapid and extreme weight loss.
Any unexplained weight loss in a child is a reason to consult a pediatrician, as children are supposed to put on weight and muscle as they grow so their bodies can develop healthily.
3. Fatigue and Irritability
Fatigue and irritability are two common symptoms of diabetes in children, though irritability is less common in type 2 diabetes than in type 1.
The fatigue is caused by the lack of sugar in the child’s cells, which we know need sugar for energy. If the cells aren’t receiving energy, they can’t function properly. This may cause a child with diabetes to sleep longer, be unusually tired when they wake up, and have trouble focusing.
Some children might fall asleep in class or be too tired to participate in activities they usually enjoy. The fatigue associated with diabetes can also happen in other conditions, one of the most common being adolescent depression.
In type 1 diabetes, parents might notice their child’s behavior suddenly changes. They may become irate and have little patience, and their school performance might also suffer a sudden decline.
Low blood sugar levels can cause changes in behavior and personality, trouble concentrating, confusion, irritability, and aggression. High blood sugar can cause cognitive impairment, tiredness, and anxiety.
4. Fruity-Smelling Breath
Diabetes can cause children to have fruity-smelling breath with no explained cause. When the body doesn’t make insulin, cells don’t have enough glucose, which is the main fuel source for cells, and it comes from the sugars found in carbohydrates.
When the body can’t convert carbohydrates into usable energy, the cells need to use another energy source instead, so they begin burning fat cells. When individuals burn fat, their body produces ketones, which are substances that build up in the urine and blood.
The body might also produce ketones if individuals are on a low-carb and high-protein diet. If the ketone levels in a child’s body are high, they might develop bad breath.
Unsafe ketone levels can cause diabetic ketoacidosis, a severe and life-threatening diabetes complication. Fruity and sweet odors on the breath are a hallmark sign of diabetic ketoacidosis.
If parents suspect their child has diabetic ketoacidosis, they should seek emergency medical treatment immediately.
5. Blurred Vision
High blood sugar causes the body to remove fluid from various tissues, and one of the places the body may get fluid is the lenses of the eyes. This can cause a child to be unable to focus on objects.
Blurry vision might occur in either eyes or just one. Some patients experience it frequently, while others only experience it once in a while.
Parents should always take their child to see a doctor or ophthalmologist if they experience unusually blurred vision, especially blurred vision that comes and goes suddenly. High blood sugar levels can cause lens swelling.
The blurring caused by this is temporary. If a child’s blood sugar is very low, their vision might also blur. Typically, vision returns to normal when blood sugar levels have been stabilized. Frequent fluctuations in blood sugar can cause vision to improve and worsen frequently.