Diabetes Awareness Month: Type 2 Diabetes in Kids

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Information about this disease is becoming more and more essential to everyday life as 1 in every 10 people will be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime. Of those people, over 90% will be diagnosed as type 2. The CDC has also reported that there has been a 30% increase of diagnosis in people under 20 since 2017. We should take this time to educate our youth on the effects of type 2 diabetes and how to prevent it. How can T2D affect children and young adults? How can it be managed? And how can future cases be prevented?

Common Symptoms in Children

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that negatively impacts the body’s ability to metabolize glucose (sugar). Opposite of type 1 diabetes, a person is not born with this condition, but develops it over time. While mild cases or early diabetes can show little to no symptoms, it is rare that children or young adults diagnosed with type 2 experience zero symptoms so it’s important to know what to look out for. Some of these symptoms children may exhibit include dehydration, increased hunger, drastic changes in mood or increased irritability, unintentional weight loss, fatigue or faintness, skin discoloration and unusual problems with vision. The effects of these symptoms can limit everyday life, negatively impact overall wellbeing and lead to more serious health issues as an adult, especially if left untreated.

T2D Management for Your Child

With proper understanding of your child’s condition and how to manage it, diabetes symptoms can be suppressed and, in some cases, nonexistent. The most important aspect of managing T2D at any age is keeping track of glucose levels. Doctors recommend patients check these levels at least once a day to recognize patterns and your child will likely need help doing so; however, frequency of testing depends on the patient’s ability and need. Testing blood sugar is important as it helps plan for the day and prevent emergencies. It allows patients to consider adjusting their  diet to cater to their current levels, safety when exercising and  possible need for insulin later in the day. Taking the correct amount of insulin or oral medications is also crucial for maintaining a healthy balance in blood sugar and minimizing the probability of harmful complications. Understanding the medications’ effects on your child’s body and how they work is extremely useful so you can be aware of what they should and shouldn’t be feeling when doses are administered.

Further management spurs from one’s lifestyle choices and mirrors what promotes well being in those without a diabetes diagnosis as well, such as a healthy diet, routine exercise, limited use of alcohol, and quitting smoking. A healthy diet is central to any form of healthy lifestyle as nutrition affects every part of the body. This is especially true for diabetics, where eating vegetables and fruits with vitamin C can promote the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar by readily supplying antioxidants into the bloodstream that help reduce the damage of ketones and pathogens.

Avoiding Diabetic Emergencies

When a person with T2D does not manage their diabetes correctly or receive the right treatment, risk of diabetic emergencies and development of long-term health problems increase exponentially. This is especially true for children, who often have a hard time staying on track without proper guidance. It is the responsibility of parents or guardians to help educate their diabetic children on the importance of managing their glucose levels and how to do so. Some common diabetic emergencies in children include hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, and diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Hypoglycemia is the most common form of a diabetic emergency, where glucose levels drop below normal, causing faintness and exhaustion. On the other hand, hyperglycemia takes place when glucose levels are too high, resulting in a similar effect to hypoglycemia. DKA is a less common, but more serious condition that can turn fatal. DKA occurs as a result of insulin not working due to low glucose levels or reaction to insulin. This causes the body to metabolize fat at too high of a rate, and the liver tries to compensate by producing a large amount of ketones. This in turn makes matters worse, as an excess of ketones causes the blood to become acidic, resulting in a poisoning of the body’s organs. Understanding these diabetic emergencies and preventing them reduces the risk of developing more serious and long term health conditions, such as cardiovascular and circulation disorders, nerve damage (neuropathy), sight and hearing loss, and even immune deficiencies are not uncommon in T2D patients.

In order to avoid these problems all together, educating children and their parents on how to prevent type 2 diabetes is critical. This first starts with acknowledging and understanding one’s risk factors. Family history, age, weight, diet, lifestyle and pre-existing illnesses are major contributors to the development of type 2. From there, understanding the management of T2D is important for ensuring those diagnosed live a healthy life.The recent spike in children with diabetes may have to do with diet and lifestyle choices they are adopting at a young age. While adults typically understand the concept of a healthy lifestyle, it is especially important to pass on this information to children and young adults.  Parents or guardians should take the time to educate their families and encourage them to take part in healthy lifestyle habits to help prevent diabetes. With the right guidance, current and future cases of type 2 diabetes can be managed properly and even prevented.

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