previously published in Simply KC magazine January 2012 issue
If you think there aren’t many children suffering with diabetes in our country, think again. The Nemours Foundation reports, “Every year in the United States, 13,000 children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and more than 1 million American kids and adults deal with the disease every day.” These are otherwise healthy kids who just hit the gene pool lottery and came out with a life-long illness which at first is all consuming to the entire family.
What is Diabetes?
Glucose, the primary sugar our body uses to produce energy, comes from foods and beverages we consume. Without glucose our bodies wouldn’t be able to perform daily functions. When consuming glucose, in normal functioning bodies, the pancreas will release insulin, which then triggers body cells to accept the glucose – then the “energy” leaves the bloodstream and begins performing. If this process doesn’t occur, then an overload of glucose stays in the bloodstream, resulting in a host of other health problems. “Type 1 diabetes (formerly juvenile diabetes) results when the pancreas loses its ability to make the hormone insulin,” reports Nemours. “In type 1 diabetes, the person’s own immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Once those cells are destroyed, they won’t ever make insulin again.”
Signs & Symptoms
Type 1 diabetes isn’t an easily diagnosed disease, and symptoms are typically as follows:
- Weight loss – body breaks down stored fat and muscle to gain fuel for deprived cells.
- Frequent urination –kidneys flush out high levels of glucose from the bloodstream through urine.
- Extreme thirst – more urination…dehydration.
- Extreme fatigue or tiredness – not able to process glucose correctly, which lowers energy levels.
Changes in Family Life
Lifestyles don’t always change dramatically; but at diagnosis, younger children and teenagers are most challenging. With little ones, the fear of pain is always an issue and no fun for the “Stick-er” or the “Stick-ee.” Luckily, it will become easier over time.
Adolescents are challenging on a different level – imagine that! They usually don’t struggle with testing or injections, but the commitment to their health and not wanting to be different from their peers is a HUGE blockade. Angela Turpin, MD, Director of the Children’s Diabetes Center at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, sees numerous diabetics in the area. She clarifies the daily protocol for type 1 kids as this:
- Check blood glucose levels frequently – using a finger stick and a meter reading machine. Dr. Turpin says, “Our goal for blood glucose testing is at least 4-6 times per day. Typical times to check are before and 2 hours after the 3 main meals and at bedtime.”
- Insulin injections – an adult can do this for younger kids, older youth can perform this skill themselves or insulin pumps can automatically give doses for those prescribed by the physician. “About 90% of our patients are on insulin pumps,” reports Dr. Turpin. “We really promote pump therapy because it allows us to administer insulin in a way that better mimics a healthy pancreas. Additionally, pumps provide more freedom and flexibility for the patients than injections.”
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet – keep track of carbohydrates, starches and simple sugars (empty calories) and balance them with proteins and fats.
- Exercise regularly – “Everyone needs exercise to stay healthy,” says Dr. Turpin. “For those with type 1 diabetes it is also an excellent way to help keep blood sugar levels in target, as exercise helps bring blood sugar down.”
- Keep all follow-up appointments – remaining close to your diabetes health care team is mandatory for obtaining optimal results.
Treating Type 1 Diabetes
A diabetes management plan is crucial for every child. The health care team will establish short-term and long-term goals for the youth to assure they will maintain normal development. Emphasizing the child needs to keep his blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. Intestinal digestive juices destroy insulin if it is swallowed, so insulin unfortunately can’t be given in pill form. Nemours says of type 1 diabetics, “Insulin is the only medicine that can keep their blood sugar levels in a healthy range.” It’s hard to explain to a child that insulin can only be given by injection or insulin pump, but hopefully, in the future there will be less painful methods for these kids.
Fueling Your Child
“Foods containing (carbohydrates) cause blood sugar levels to go up the most,” reports Nemours. “Foods that are mostly protein and/or fat don’t affect blood sugar levels nearly as much.” Eating meals and snacks at regular times helps to keep blood sugar levels normal. Dr. Turpin states, “We educate our patients on carbohydrate counting and use a ratio of insulin to carbohydrates to adequately control blood sugar at meals and snacks. While we do not typically restrict carbs or empty calories, we certainly promote healthy eating habits overall.”
Since it is necessary for all children (humans) with medical disabilities/allergies wear a medical alert ID – don’t get lost in the dark ages! Lauren’s Hope is a website that offers trendy, kid-friendly medical ID bracelets and other jewelry which “combines safety with style.” Plus, they have glow-in-the-dark diabetes wrist bands. Way cool! Check them out at http://www.laurenshope.com.
Stacey Hatton, is a pediatric nurse, mother of two and freelance writer. You can find her humor blog at http://nursemommylaughs.com.