Childhood Diabetes

Did you know that children also get diabetes?

Childhood diabetes is referred to as Type 1 diabetes. The body has an organ called the pancreas that produces insulin. Insulin is a hormone that ensures that glucose produced from the digested food we eat gets into the cells for growth and energy. When there is a destruction of the insulin-producing Beta cells of the pancreas, a disorder of glucose metabolism results, and this is referred to as type 1 diabetes. This is characterized by insulin deficiency and resultant hypoglycaemia (high blood glucose in blood).

This condition represents one of the most frequent chronic diseases in children and young adults. It is estimated that about 542,000 children under the age of 15 have Type 1 diabetes worldwide. We have also noted an increase in the incidences of childhood diabetes locally.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

The cause of type 1 diabetes remains unknown. Type 1 is not lifestyle related unlike Type 2 diabetes, which mostly involves adults. In Type 1, the body reacts against the body cells that produce insulin. These are called the islet of Langerhans and this reaction that causes destruction is called immune mediated destruction. There is clear evidence of genetic predisposition and some evidence for environmental factors triggering immune-mediated destruction of the pancreatic beta cells. The pancreas has A, B and D cells all having specific functions. Alpha, Beta and Delta cells. The Beta cells are responsible for insulin production. If destroyed, Type 1 diabetes results. Environmental factors such as certain viral infections have been shown to trigger autoimmune destruction of the Beta cells. The progression from development of pancreatic Beta cell autoimmunity to significant islet cell destruction may take many years. Once the surviving Beta cells mass is unable to produce sufficient insulin, clinical symptoms evolve…

What are the signs to look out for?

Because there is not enough insulin, glucose does not enter the cells leading to a feeling of tiredness and lethargy making the child not want to work or play. Due to the high concentration of sugar (glucose) in the blood, more water and body salts are excreted hence, the child would also experience frequent urination both day and night. This results in dehydration and one would then notice the child tending to drink excessively, a condition called polydipsia. Weight loss also results because the body utilizes all the stored glucose in the liver, muscles and fat to try and get some energy.

What is the treatment for Type 1 diabetes?

The only treatment for this condition is insulin. This is a drug that is injected into the subcutaneous tissues to lower the blood glucose levels and ensure the glucose gets into the cells of the body. Therefore, from diagnosis, children would have to inject themselves for all their life. There are different types of insulin and the dose depends on the age and individual child.

How do children cope with diabetes?

Many accept it is initially difficult to be diagnosed with a chronic illness. They have to overcome the fear of injections and the stigma that comes with it in school. Children however are resilient and can overcome any hurdle and excel in everything just like any other children. They can play, have fun, learn and grow like the rest. All they need is the support from their families, friends and teachers to manage this condition.

Is there any help available?

Yes! Now most healthcare professionals can easily diagnose type 1 diabetes unlike before. There was a lot of misdiagnosis as the symptoms mimic malaria, leading to death. But the narrative has changed. In Kenya, there are many clinics offering care for children with diabetes.

The oldest man living with Type 1 diabetes, Bob Krause, was diagnosed at 6 years and he has lived for 85 years with diabetes. It can be done!

Recent studies show an increase in Type 2 diabetes in patients under 40 years of age. The question therefore is – what can we do as parents to minimize the risk of our children eventually developing Type 2 diabetes?

Keep it here for more information on Type 2 diabetes……………………………..

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Nelly Njeri Wakaba is a nurse who is very passionate about diabetes. She works as a project manager for Changing Diabetes in Children (CDiC), an initiative that supports children with diabetes in 7 African countries. Her passion is to empower patients through education to make healthy decisions and take control of their own health. She believes diabetes can be controlled by having raised awareness and taking action. The test takes only 5 seconds!

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