Diabetes is a chronic disease due to high glucose levels in the blood and is more commonly seen in adults than children. Type 1 diabetes wherein the body is unable produce sufficient insulin and type 2 diabetes in which the body doesn’t respond to insulin properly, are the two types that are responsible for high blood sugar levels in the body. However, type 2 diabetes is more commonly associated with adults and type 1 diabetes with children, but over the past few years there has been a significant increase in the reported cases of children and adolescents with type 2 diabetes, generally between 10 to 19 years of age. The condition affects the child’s glucose or sugar metabolism and occurs when the body develops a resistance to insulin and does not use it properly to regulate normal blood sugar levels.
Glucose or sugar is the main source of energy for the cells in the body, which is produced by the liver and also comes from the starchy foods we eat, like bread, rice, potatoes, etc. This glucose is released and stored in the liver and is absorbed into the bloodstream with the help of insulin. But when the body is unable to produce enough insulin or insulin levels are low, it results in type 2 diabetes. This diabetic condition is more commonly seen in kids who have insulin resistance, are obese or those who have a strong family history of diabetes. Hence obesity and heredity are two other prime causes of this type of diabetes.
Though in most cases no major signs and symptoms are noticed, yet some common ones include:
- Increased thirst and appetite, as excess sugar extracts the fluids from the tissues and since the cells are not getting enough glucose, the muscles and other body organs are deprived of energy
- Weight loss and fatigue, as the cells are deprived of energy that sugar supplies, which causes the muscle tissues and fat stores to shrink
- Blurred vision due to elevated blood sugar levels that pull the fluid from the lenses of the eyes
- Frequent urination, as the child drinks more water due to increased thirst, which makes him/her urinate more than normal
- Slow healing of cuts and wounds, as the disease hampers the child’s ability to heal and resist infections
- Darkened skin areas or formation of dark patches in the folds or creases of the body
The long term complications or adverse effects of type 2 diabetes may develop over a certain period, hence if not treated in time, it may lead to some life-threatening diseases, like, cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke, chest pain, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels). Excess sugar in the blood vessels can damage the nerves spreading to different parts of the body, causing tingling, numbness, pain, or burning sensation at the tips of the toes or fingers. The disease affects the kidney’s natural filtering mechanism that helps in removing wastes and toxins from the body. Hence children with this health condition are more likely to develop liver disease and kidney damage. It also increases the risk of cataract or other eye infections, as it damages the blood vessels of the retina.
Since the blood sugar levels fluctuate quite often, it is important to test the child’s blood sugar level several times in order to keep a record of all the readings to show them to the doctor. Your child has to follow a diabetic diet plan recommended by the doctor. The diet will mainly include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are high in nutrients and low in sugar and calories. Along with this, the child should also try doing regular exercises such as running, swimming, cycling, etc., to control the blood sugar level. Usually the blood sugar level gets controlled with the diet and exercise alone, but in chronic cases, the child may need some oral medications and insulin treatment like injections and an insulin pump.
The best way to treat type 2 diabetes in kids, is to monitor and keep a track of your child’s blood sugar levels, as different foods, activities, and medications that will help to keep the diabetes under control, mainly depend on the glucose levels.