Parent of a child with Type 1 diabetes: How to monitor and support?
Published May 5, 2023 • By Polina Kochetkova
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition affecting how our body processes glucose. Millions of children and adults struggle with diabetes, a serious condition that requires careful management to prevent long-term complications. How does Type 1 diabetes affect kids? How to support and monitor a child with this condition?
Keep reading to find out!
What is Type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that influences the body’s insulin production. Insulin is a hormone responsible for controlling glucose in the blood. When living with Type 1 diabetes, the body is not able to produce enough insulin, increasing glucose levels in the bloodstream. Naturally, glucose is supposed to move from the bloodstream to the cells, providing energy. However, a lack of insulin slows down glucose movement, leaving it “stuck” in the bloodstream. Unlike Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 diabetes is not linked to being overweight or age. Therefore, the condition affects children of any age. Around the world, an estimated 1.1 million children and teenagers have type 1 diabetes. Every year, T1D is identified in approximately around 132,000 kids and teenagers. The prevalence of T1D in children is increasing worldwide, with an annual growth rate of approximately 3%.
When suffering from Type 1 diabetes, the body’s autoimmune system mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
The exact reason why T1D appears is unknown, yet some of the possible causes include genetics and environmental factors.
In kids, the condition most commonly appears during two age periods: 4 - 7 and 10 – 14 years old.
While Type 2 diabetes symptoms can manifest slowly and gradually, Type 1 diabetes symptoms usually appear rapidly and unexpectedly. Sometimes, the symptoms can start after an illness. The symptoms can include:
- Unusually-often urination,
- Feelings of extreme thirst and/or hunger,
- Blurry vision,
- Slow healing of injuries,
- Weight loss and fruity smell of breath.
Rapid weight loss can be an alarming sign of T1D. Since glucose does not reach the cells normally, the body goes into a “starving” mode, burning fat and muscle to produce energy. This causes unexpected weight loss.
How does Type 1 diabetes affect a child’s life?
A child with undiagnosed or untreated Type 1 diabetes usually drinks a lot of water, uses the bathroom very frequently, has a high appetite, yet feels more and more tired and ill as the condition progresses. Often children can start wetting the bed at night, even after being potty-trained. A child can also become moody and more irritable.
Often symptoms of T1D in children are not diagnosed for months or years. In some cases, the diagnosis happens only after experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – a life-threatening condition.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) has similar symptoms as Type 1 diabetes, with the additional presence of nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, increased heartbeat and dehydration. When left untreated, DKA can result in a diabetic coma. The body's inability to function properly because of the elevated blood acidity might result in a person losing consciousness. It is important to head to the ER as soon as Diabetic ketoacidosis symptoms appear. In the hospital, doctors will examine the blood and urine of the child and provide intensive care, including insulin injections and IV fluids.
After receiving a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, caregivers and children can face different physical and emotional challenges. Several of the body's major organs may be impacted by type 1 diabetes. Most of the time, maintaining blood sugar levels near to normal can significantly lower the chance of developing a variety of illnesses. Possible complications include:
Vascular and heart disease
Diabetes raises the likelihood that a kid may experience later-life heart disease, stroke, blood vessel narrowing, high blood pressure, and other diseases.
The numerous little blood artery clusters in the kidneys that filter waste from a child's blood. Kidneys can get damaged by diabetes.
The walls of the small blood arteries that supply the child's nerves can get damaged by too much glucose. Tingling, numbness, burning, or discomfort may result from this. Nerve damage typically takes place over a long period of time.
Diabetes has the potential to harm the retinal blood vessels in the eye, which might cause vision issues.
Living with type 1 diabetes, can also be challenging mentally, especially at a young age. Diabetic children often face a lot of limitations due to their condition, which could be difficult to comprehend. A child may not understand what insulin is, why he or she needs to go through medical tests or why their diet is not the same as other kids. Some children are afraid of doctors and needles, therefore doing medical check-ups can be stressful for them. Depending on the age, a child may not be able to clearly articulate the symptoms, express preoccupations or ask questions. As children grow up, they can gain the urge to do things “their own way”, which is not always possible due to type 1 diabetes limitations.
How to monitor a child with type 1 diabetes?
Unfortunately, at the moment, there is no cure for T1D. However, with constant monitoring, children with this condition can live a happy healthy life. To properly monitor your child, it is recommended to have a diabetes care plan. It consists of a set of guidelines that you and your kid should follow. The diabetes care plan’s goal is to assist with preserving your child's blood sugar levels within a healthy range. This plan can consist of four parts:
Measuring blood sugar levels
There are two devices to monitor your child’s blood sugar levels: a blood glucose meter and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
Blood glucose meter is used by most caregivers of children with type 1 diabetes, who have to monitor their blood sugar before meals and before going to bed. This occurs up to four times every day if not more. How frequently to check and what to do if the sugar is too high or low will be specified in the care plan.
Continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is a wearable gadget that checks blood sugar every few minutes. It makes use of a thread-like sensor that is inserted beneath the skin and fixed in position. Prior to needing replacement, sensors can be left in position for 10 days. A CGM can assist you and the care team in maintaining blood sugar in a healthy range even better since it collects blood sugar measures very frequently.
During a hospital visit, doctors can use a test called glycosylated hemoglobin (hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c). This test allows to see the glucose fluctuation in the blood during the previous 2-3 months.
Taking insulin is one of the most important parts of type 1 diabetes treatment since it allows glucose to travel from the bloodstream to organs and give energy to the body. There are multiple ways insulin can be taken.
Insulin injection: Children often require four or more shots every day. An injection of insulin doesn't hurt very much since the insulin needle is very small. Your child can learn how to deal with injections from the care staff.
Insulin pump: The pump continually provides insulin through a tiny tube inserted just beneath the skin.
Often, people with type 1 diabetes experience the “honeymoon” phase. During this phase the body starts producing more insulin naturally, therefore the dosage of insulin taken must be adjusted. This period usually lasts a couple of months to a year.
Eating a healthy diet
Following a well-balanced diet can be beneficial for people with diabetes. Children with type 1 diabetes have to figure out the appropriate balance of diet, insulin, and exercise to maintain favorable blood sugar levels. Knowing how various meals impact your child's blood sugar can be very helpful.
Engaging in physical activity
An active lifestyle can help insulin work more efficiently. Physical activity strengthens your child's muscles and bones, improves mood, and regulates blood sugar levels.
How to support a child with type 1 diabetes?
When facing a chronic condition like diabetes, support from your close ones is very important. As a parent or caregiver, you should provide emotional support and be patient with your child.
Firstly, it is important to educate yourself. Try to learn about the disease, effects of insulin, glucose functions, ways to monitor your child, and more. Joining support groups and talking to people in similar situations can help you understand your child better.
Provide a healthy supportive environment. Due to multiple limitations, children with diabetes can often feel lonely and overly controlled. It is essential to ensure your child can express his or her individuality and simply have fun with friends. Supporting your child and showing your trust in them can be critical in helping them make positive changes in their health behaviors. A supportive environment can also help individuals feel more motivated to make healthy choices, such as engaging in physical activity or eating a balanced diet. Make sure to listen to your kid’s worries and answer questions. That can help the child to not feel like “an odd one out”.
To sum up, type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease that primarily affects young people and needs lifetime management. Parents and other relatives must be aware of the symptoms and indications of type 1 diabetes since early detection and treatment can help minimize health problems. To effectively manage type 1 diabetes in children, blood sugar levels should be closely monitored, insulin needs to be administered, and a healthy lifestyle is needed. Children with type 1 diabetes should also get social and emotional support from parents and caregivers to help them cope with the difficulties of having a chronic illness. Children with type 1 diabetes can have happy, fulfilling lives if they receive the right support and treatment.
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Diabetes Symptoms, Diabetes.org
What You Should Know About Unexplained Weight Loss and Diabetes, Clevelandclinic.org
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children, Diabetes.org.uk
Type 1 diabetes in children, Mayoclinic.org
Young Children with Type 1 Diabetes: Challenges, Research, and Future Directions, Nih.gov
Treating Type 1 Diabetes, Kidshealth.org
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