8 Signs That Your Child Might Have Type 1 Diabetes

Has your child been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes? If so, don’t panic. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we have many patients with this condition and are very experienced at helping parents learn how to cope with this challenging chronic disease, as well as teaching our patients (when old enough) to manage it themselves.

Rodd Stein, MD, FAAP

What we hear a lot from both patients and parents is that diabetes seems overwhelming at first—giving injections, counting carbohydrates and monitoring blood sugar—mainly because it requires constant care. They also tell us that having a structured, regular treatment plan really helps. (Fortunately, advances in blood sugar monitoring and insulin delivery have greatly improved the daily management of diabetes.)

So how do you know if your child does in fact have type 1 diabetes (also called juvenile diabetes)? To help you know the facts, we offer these guidelines.

8 signs that your child might have type 1 diabetes

Managing your child’s diabetes is a lifelong commitment to blood sugar monitoring, insulin therapy, healthy eating and regular exercise. And as your child grows and changes, his/her diabetes treatment plan will change, too.

If your child has 1 or any combination of the 8 signs and symptoms listed below, he/she should see your pediatrician as soon as possible.

The signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children usually develop quickly, over a period of weeks. A simple urine analysis can make the diagnosis. These signs and symptoms include:

  1. Increased thirst and frequent urination. Excess sugar buildup in your child’s bloodstream pulls fluid from tissues. As a result, your child might be thirsty and drink and urinate more than usual. In fact, a young, toilet-trained child might suddenly experience bed-wetting.
  2. Extreme hunger. Without enough insulin to transfer sugar to your child’s cells, his/her muscles and organs lack energy, which triggers intense hunger.
  3. Weight loss. Unexplained weight loss is often the first sign of type 1 diabetes in children. Despite eating more than usual to relieve hunger, your child may lose weight, sometimes rapidly. Without the energy that sugar supplies, muscle tissues and fat stores simply shrink.
  4. Lack of sugar in your child’s cells might make him/her tired and lethargic.
  5. Irritability or behavior changes. In addition to mood swings, your child might suddenly have a decline in performance at school.
  6. Fruity-smelling breath. Burning fat instead of sugar produces certain substances (ketones) that can cause a fruity breath odor.
  7. Blurred vision. If your child’s blood sugar is too high, fluid may be pulled from the lenses of his/her eyes, causing your child to be unable to focus clearly.
  8. Yeast infection. Girls with type 1 diabetes may develop genital yeast infections. Also, babies can develop diaper rashes caused by yeast.

Factors that put your child at risk for type 1 diabetes

  1. Family history. A child with a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes has an increased risk of developing the condition.
  2. Genetic susceptibility. The presence of certain genes indicates an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
  3. Race. In the U.S., type 1 diabetes is more common among non-Hispanic white children than among other races.
  4. Certain viruses. Exposure to various viruses may trigger the autoimmune destruction of the islet cells.
  5. Infant diet. No specific dietary factor or nutrient has been shown to play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes starting in infancy. However, early intake of cow’s milk has been linked to an increased risk of type 1 diabetes, while breastfeeding might lower the risk. The timing of the introduction of cereal into a baby’s diet also may affect a child’s risk of type 1 diabetes.

5 important ways to manage your child’s type 1 diabetes

  1. Monitoring blood sugar. Depending on what type of insulin therapy your child needs, you will probably be instructed to check and record your child’s blood sugar at least 4 times a day (maybe more often), requiring frequent finger sticks. This is the only way to make sure your child’s blood sugar level remains within his/her target range, determined by your pediatrician.
  2. Insulin and other medications. Anyone with type 1 diabetes needs insulin treatment. Because stomach enzymes interfere with insulin taken by mouth, insulin needs to be injected with a fine needle syringe or an insulin pen. An insulin pump is another option, worn outside of the body, where, a tube connects the reservoir of insulin to a catheter inserted under the skin of the abdomen. A wireless pump that uses small pods filled with insulin is yet another option, automatically dispensing specific amounts of insulin automatically.
  3. Healthy eating. At WHP, we feel it’s important to work with a registered dietician who is familiar with diabetes to ensure that your child is getting adequate nutritional intake with an emphasis on the different glycemic effects of various carbohydrates. Carbohydrates should be limited to ones high in fiber, and intake should be consistent.
  4. Physical activity. All children need regular cardiovascular exercise, and those with type 1 diabetes are no exception. Encourage your child to get regular physical activity, whether it’s soccer, swimming, dance, basketball, football, jogging, bike riding or any other aerobic activity. However, be aware that physical activity usually lowers blood sugar, possibly affecting your child’s blood sugar levels for up to 12 hours after exercise. You might need to adjust your child’s meal plan or insulin doses to compensate for the increased activity.

Remember: diabetes doesn’t have to limit your child

Even though type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition that requires constant monitoring, kids with diabetes can do everything other kids can do. It might take some extra effort initially to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range but this will get easier with practice. Even if you make a mistake, once you learn how to recognize your child’s reactions when his/her levels are too low or too high, you’ll know how to fix it.


Concerned that your child might have type 1 diabetes?

If you think your child might be developing type 1 diabetes, or already has diabetes, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics to see one of our pediatricians. We have years of experience and lots of advice and guidance to help make living with this disease easier on everyone. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

Make an apptBy Rodd Stein, MD, FAAP, Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners