What is Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, what are the signs, and how can we manage it with small children?

There is a lot of attention given to Type 2 Diabetes these days but not nearly as much awareness is raised around Type 1 Diabetes. I have partnered with Americord to talk about what this type of Diabetes is and the symptoms and signs to watch for in case your child is affected.

There are three types of Diabetes: type 1 (DM1), type 2 (DM2), and Gestational Diabetes (GD). Type 1 DM has also been labelled as Juvenile Diabetes as it usually is diagnosed before the age of 18. However, this alternate title has faded in use as we have more and more children and adolescents diagnosed with DM2 and DM1 can be diagnosed in adults, although rare. DM 1 has a strong genetic link but may also result after certain type of viral infections.  When someone has DM1, it means that their immune system has mistakingly attacked the beta cells in their pancreas resulting in little or no insulin available to help their bodies use the glucose consumed. As a result glucose builds up in the blood stream which can lead to low energy and damage many areas of the body.

So how can you tell if your child has DM1? The main signs/symptoms are:

  • excessive thirst, especially for juice
  • frequent/excessive urination
  • weight loss/trouble gaining weight
  • low energy/asking to rest or sleep all the time
  • frequently sick
  • cuts and bruises take a long time to heal

Remember that any one of these in isolation may be related to other causation factors, but it is always worth a conversation with your pediatrician if you are concerned.

If your child is diagnosed with DM1 then they will need insulin provided for all carbohydrates consumed. The frequency and amount will be determine with your child’s health care team and eventually your child may be able to move to an insulin pump instead of injections. One of the biggest challenges with small children who have DM 1 is determining how much they will eat at a meal. A diagnosis of DM1 does not exempt our child from “food jags” or fussy eating. In fact, these normal developmental stages may be even more extreme. If you are struggling with this, please remember that the Division of Responsibility still applies. However, you may need to alter it slightly. If you have given your child insulin for a certain amount of carbohydrates and your child is refusing supper, it will be tempting to offer juice or candy to ensure their blood sugar does not go low. However, this can lead to development of poor habits. Instead try to always add a nutrient-rich and carbohydrate-rich food to the meal that your child likes along with exposure to one they don’t love. Also don’t be afraid to talk with your child to to help them understand how they might feel if they don’t eat enough. Setting them up for success and offering the “why” behind nourishemnt can reduce meal time stress and battles and leave your child developing habits of choosing nutrient rich foods over quick fixes like juice. If you find that this is a daily challenge then be sure to speak to the Registered Dietitian on your child team for more strategies that are specific to where your child is at.

DM1 is a lifelong disease and the best approach is to teach and guide your child to make healthy choices that support their overall health and blood sugar balance as best possible. Also remind your child that this disease does not define who they are. They are 100% whole and able human being with the potential to do anything they put their mind to! If you have any further questions on this topic, feel free to comment below or speak to your local health care team.

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