Between 1990-2005 there was a staggering 23% increase in the number of Diabetic patients diagnosed in the United States. This month, I wanted to take some time to discuss some basic facts about this life-altering disease.
There are three types of Diabetes Mellitus (DM): Type I DM, Type II DM, and Gestational DM. For some time, it was thought Type I DM was the only form to worry about in children. However, now we have seen increased frequency of Type II DM in a younger population, so we will examine these two types of Diabetes a little more in-depth.
Type I DM is an autoimmune disorder caused by irreversible destruction of islet cells in the pancreas. Once this occurs, the part of the pancreas that makes insulin for the entire body is destroyed. Insulin helps every cell in the body obtain glucose (sugar) and turn it into a usable energy source. Without insulin, the cells in every organ in your body run out of energy and cannot work properly. This is why most people are very sick when they are first diagnosed with Type I DM.
Here are a few symptoms to look for that may be indicative of of Type I DM:
Sudden increase in urination.This occurs because the body has increased glucose floating around in the blood which makes the kidneys create more urine.
Increased thirst and hunger. This is common because the cells in the body think that there is a shortage of glucose, since none is available to be used for energy.
Weight loss. This occurs because the cells are losing energy.
Any of all of these symptoms may progress very quickly over a matter of days, to the point that a child may be vomiting and lethargic. Type I DM currently accounts for approximately 10% of cases of DM, and can occur in children as young 2-years.
Type II DM, which accounts for the remaining 90% of cases, is a more gradual process that results from increased insulin resistance. This means the pancreas works, but is becoming overworked because the patient is eating to many sugary or high-carbohydrate foods. If the body cannot rid itself of glucose fast enough, and if the cells do not immediately need all of that glucose, it is stored in fat cells. As this process gradually becomes overwhelmed, there may be a larger amount of glucose floating around in the bloodstream at any given time. At one point, Type II DM was commonly diagnosed after permanent kidney and eye damage had taken place, but using blood test to screen overweight patients allows for much earlier diagnosis now.
Not long ago, Type II DM was found exclusively in adults. However, it has now been diagnosed in children as young as 7 years old due to increased childhood obesity. It is important to limit sugary drinks and foods and encourage active lifestyles to try and prevent Type II DM.
As I mentioned before, we have seen a large increase in Diabetes over recent decades. Physicians are unsure as to why there has been an increase in Type I DM, but we know that the number of Type II DM patients continues to rise due to the changes in our diets. Since we know early stages of Type II DM can be successfully treated with weight loss, this is an area many pediatricians are focusing on by discussing healthier lifestyles earlier. As a parent, it is important to know the signs for Type I DM to have your pediatrician screen for Type II DM if your child is overweight.