What is Type 1 Diabetes in Children?
Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes, is a medical condition in which the body produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a necessary hormone that allows sugar molecules to move into our cells to be used for energy. In children with type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the cells in the pancreas that create insulin. Without insulin, cells cannot get the sugar they need for energy; instead, sugar builds up in the bloodstream. High blood sugar levels can damage the kidneys, blood vessels, nerves, and heart.
Type 1 diabetes in children is a chronic condition that can occur at any age. Symptoms can occur gradually over time or suddenly, but some children who have not experienced symptoms are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during medical screening for other conditions.
Type 1 diabetes has no cure, so treatment is focused on managing sugar levels in the bloodstream. Children with type 1 diabetes need insulin treatments to regulate their blood sugar levels, and treatment may also include certain lifestyle changes.
Types of Diabetes
At NewYork-Presbyterian, children and adolescents can receive care for different types of diabetes, including:
- Type 1 diabetes, occurs when the pancreas makes little or no insulin. It is usually diagnosed in children or adolescents but can also develop in adults.
- Type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, insulin does not function properly to enable sugar to enter cells. This condition is usually diagnosed in adults, though it can occur in children, too. Being overweight and lack of physical activity have been linked to type 2 diabetes.
- Insulin resistance (“pre-diabetes”). This occurs in patients who have blood sugar levels that are above average, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Either the pancreas is not making enough insulin, or body cells are already showing some signs of insulin resistance. More than 84 million Americans over the age of 18 are pre-diabetic.
- Steroid-induced diabetes. Steroid use increases insulin resistance, causing increased levels of sugar in the bloodstream and potentially leading to diabetes.
- MODY (maturity-onset diabetes of the young). MODY is a rare form of diabetes caused by a mutation in a single gene. This form of diabetes runs in families and is typically diagnosed before age 30.
- Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes. Cystic fibrosis causes these fluids to become abnormally thick and sticky. The thick mucus can cause scarring on the pancreas, which prevents it from producing normal amounts of insulin.
Signs & Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes in Children
Signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children can appear suddenly and may even present as flu-like symptoms.
Type 1 diabetes symptoms can differ among children and may include:
- Frequent urination, and possibly bed-wetting
- Increased thirst
- Extreme hunger, but unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite in young children
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Mood changes
- Diaper rash
- Fast breathing
- Fruity-smelling breath
- Yeast infections in girls
Adults can also develop type 1 diabetes. The symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children can be similar to symptoms of other medical conditions. Make an appointment with your medical doctor if you develop these symptoms.
What Causes Type 1 Diabetes in Children?
Type 1 diabetes in children is caused when the immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The specific reason for this immune response is unknown. Research suggests that specific genes make a person more likely to develop type 1 diabetes, but other potential causes such as viruses are also being investigated.
Type 1 diabetes in children may potentially lead to other complications. Monitoring blood glucose levels to keep them close to normal can help reduce the risk of complications.
Possible type 1 diabetes complications may include:
- Nerve damage. High sugar levels can damage the blood vessels that support nerves. Such damage usually occurs gradually and can cause tingling or burning sensations, numbness, and/or pain.
- Kidney damage. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, which are responsible for filtering waste from blood
- Eye damage. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the eye’s retina. This kind of damage can lead to vision problems.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This is a life-threatening complication of diabetes that results from very low insulin levels and very high blood sugar levels. When the cells cannot use sugar for energy, they start to break down fat instead. This causes the body to produce toxins faster than the kidneys can filter them from the bloodstream, resulting in nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and possibly even brain swelling.
- Heart and blood vessel disease. Diabetes increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, narrowed blood vessels, and heart disease later in life
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Type 1 Diabetes Care
The Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at NewYork-Presbyterian and the Weill Cornell Medicine Pediatric Diabetes Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital provide the most up-to-date personalized care for diabetes management based on cutting-edge science.
When it is time for your child to transition from pediatric to adult care, we provide connections to adult care providers to make that transition as smooth and seamless as possible. Learn about the treatment options available at NewYork-Presbyterian and find out how we can help your child and family.