Juvenile diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin, the hormone necessary for metabolizing blood glucose. As blood glucose levels rise because the body can’t effectively manage them, children begin to suffer from diabetes symptoms. Because no cure exists for diabetes, treatment for juvenile diabetes revolves around taking insulin and making the necessary lifestyle adjustments.
While symptoms of juvenile diabetes can develop at any age, most cases are diagnosed during childhood. Approximately 400,000 new cases of juvenile diabetes are diagnosed every year in patients under the age of 24. Juvenile diabetes accounts for about 3 percent of all types of diabetes.
Types of Diabetes
Here is an outline of the various types of diabetes:
- Gestational diabetes refers to diabetes that affects pregnant mothers. This type of diabetes usually resolves itself after delivery.
- Juvenile diabetes, also known as insulin dependent diabetes mellitus or Type I diabetes, describes the cases in which people are born with diabetes.
- Type II diabetes occurs when a patient is born able to produce insulin but loses this ability over time. This type of diabetes typically develops in adults with unhealthy lifestyles or other health complications.
Causes of Juvenile Diabetes
Juvenile diabetes begins when the beta cells (pancreatic cells that produce insulin) fail to produce enough insulin. Insulin lets blood glucose cross cell walls, where cells convert glucose into energy.
While the causes of juvenile diabetes are unknown, it is known that symptoms of juvenile diabetes worsen as beta cells die off. All beta cells die within five to 10 years of juvenile diabetes diagnosis, causing the pancreas to eventually stop producing insulin. This explains why patients with juvenile diabetes need to regularly inject themselves with insulin.
Symptoms of Juvenile Diabetes
Juvenile diabetes symptoms develop as blood glucose levels rise. Common symptoms of juvenile diabetes include:
- absence of menstruation in adolescent girls
- excessive hunger
- excessive thirst
- frequent urination
- increase in appetite
- ketoacidosis (discussed in detail below)
- weight loss.
Symptoms of Juvenile Diabetes: Ketoacidosis
One of the most dangerous complications of juvenile diabetes is ketoacidosis, a condition in which the body, unable to access blood glucose for energy, begins to breakdown fat tissue as an alternative energy source.
As the body metabolizes fat, it releases acids called ketones. Excessive levels of ketones cause a toxic condition called ketoacidosis. Symptoms of ketoacidosis include:
- abdominal pain
- deep, rapid breathing
- dry mouth
- dry skin
- excessive thirst
- flushed face
- fruity-smelling breath
- increased urination
Symptoms of ketoacidosis require immediate medical treatment because, if left untreated, ketoacidosis causes coma and death.
Diagnosing Juvenile Diabetes
To make a proper juvenile diabetes diagnosis, doctors perform a urine test on patients. The presence of glucose and ketones in urine is highly suggestive of diabetes, indicating the need for further testing.
A random, non-fasting blood glucose test with results of blood glucose levels of 200 mg/dL or higher is a more powerful test that suggests the presence of juvenile diabetes. However, for a firm diagnosis, a fasting glucose test must be administered. A fasting blood glucose result of 126 mg/dl confirms juvenile diabetes.
Complications of Juvenile Diabetes
Uncontrolled juvenile diabetes causes serious, possibly fatal health complications. Some of the more severe health conditions that arise when juvenile diabetes isn’t properly managed include:
- foot disease that can lead to amputation
- heart disease
- kidney damage
- skin conditions
- vascular disorders
- vision disorders that can lead to blindness.
Treatment for Juvenile Diabetes
Because no cure for juvenile diabetes exists, treatment aims to reduce complications and alleviate existing symptoms. After diagnosis, initial treatment for juvenile diabetes aims at treating ketoacidosis and high blood glucose, which often requires a period of hospitalization.
Once blood glucose levels stabilize, treatment for juvenile diabetes revolves around:
- administering insulin injections when needed
- eating a healthy diet
- exercising regularly
- maintaining a healthy weight
- regularly checking blood glucose levels
- taking special care of the feet.
Insulin and Juvenile Diabetes
Because patients with juvenile diabetes can’t produce insulin on their own, they need to regularly inject themselves with insulin to maintain healthy glucose levels. Patients can choose between several types of synthetic insulin that differ in how long they last and how quickly they work.
Insulin treatments for juvenile diabetes are based on the individual’s needs, exercise regimen and dietary habits. Depending on the severity of the condition, diabetics with juvenile diabetes generally need to take anywhere from one to four insulin injections each day.
While children receive their insulin treatments from adults, teens can often administer insulin themselves. Although injection is the most common delivery method for insulin, some children with juvenile diabetes use an infusion pump to receive insulin. Insulin infusion pumps deliver steady doses of insulin throughout the day through a small needle inserted into the abdomen.
Juvenile Diabetes Diet
Along with taking insulin, treatment of juvenile diabetes requires that patients carefully control their diabetes through proper nutrition and diet. Once a diabetic has been diagnosed and has effectively stabilized his blood sugar levels, the next step is to consult a dietician to learn how to maintain a diabetic’s diet.
While diabetics can eat a wide range of food, they must take care to maintain their blood glucose levels. Juvenile diabetes nutrition strives to keep blood glucose levels as steady as possible.
Excessive amounts of exercise, too little food or too much insulin can lead to hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood glucose).
Hypoglycemic symptoms of juvenile diabetes include:
- double vision
- loss of coordination
Diabetics can defend themselves against hypoglycemia by consuming simple sugars (a regular soda or a few pieces of candy, for instance) and by checking blood glucose levels with urine strips.
If blood glucose levels don’t improve or if the child has seizures or passes out, a glucagon injection can restore blood glucose levels. If glucagon produces no improvement within a few minutes, seek emergency medical assistance.
Preventing Juvenile Diabetes Complications
Regular check-ups and routine examinations are the best ways to prevent complications of juvenile diabetes from developing. Annual vision exams can catch signs of retinal damage caused by blood glucose that can damage small blood vessels in the eyes.
Similarly, because many diabetics lose feeling in their feet due to vascular damage, regular self-exams of the feet are necessary to identify foot sores or infections that could become infected and require amputation.
About.com (n.d.). Children with Diabetes. Retrieved September 19, 2007 from the About.com Web site: http://pediatrics.about.com/od/childrenwithdiabetes/Children_with_Diabetes.htm.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (updated 9 February 2005). Type 1 diabetes. Retrieved June 5, 2005 from the NLM Web site: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000305.htm.