Type 1 diabetes – it takes a family to raise a diabetic child
“Have you checked?”
These are usually the first words uttered by parents to their children who are living with type one diabetes.
This is because the regular monitoring of blood sugar levels throughout the day, especially before or after meals, is non-negotiable.
The daily insulin injections that their child needs are essential to keeping the child healthy, until a cure is found.
Finding out about the diagnosis for the first time might be overwhelming and might leave both parent and child with mixed emotions.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that any parent could have done to prevent their child from having to live with type one diabetes.
Unlike type two diabetes, which has to do with diet and lifestyle, type one diabetes is an auto-immune disease.
According to the seventh IDF Diabetes Atlas, there are now more that half a million children aged 14 and younger who are living with type one diabetes.
Dr Ntsiki Molefe-Osman, Diabetes Medical Advisor at Lily South Africa, tells us a bit more about type one diabetes.
Type one diabetes is a disorder of the metabolism which is caused by the body’s immune system attacking the cells in the pancreas which are responsible for producing insulin.
Children aren’t born with it. Instead, it develops over time and there is usually a genetic predisposition which makes them vulnerable.
Unfortunately, type one diabetes is a serious lifelong disease.
Managing the condition needs to be done diligently because poor control of the disease today, will have life long repercussions.
When a child is diagnosed with type one diabetes, the whole family needs to adapt to a new lifestyle.
Dr Ntsiki emphasises the importance of good glycaemic control.
The basics of managing and preventing the complications of type one diabetes is careful daily management of blood glucose and sustaining tight glucose control.
Because diabetes is a progressive disease, if it’s left unchecked it will lead to organ damage.
Health repercussions that can occur later on in life include: kidney failure, heart failure, blindness and nerve damage which could result in the loss of a limb.
– Excessive thirst
– Excessive hunger
– Excessive urination (waking up more than two times a night)
– Weight loss
– Blurred vision
Symptoms develop quickly over days to weeks.
Why do type one diabetics need insulin?
People who are living with type one diabetes do not produce any insulin so it needs to be replaced with insulin injections.
Insulin moves blood sugar into the body tissues where it is used for energy.
If there is no insulin, sugar builds up in the bloodstream – commonly referred to as hyperglycaemia or high blood sugar.
It is dangerous and has many side effects.
How is it managed?
A diabetes diagnosis for your child might come as a shock and will mean that adjustments need to be made.
However, with consistent control and support from a healthcare provider, people living with type one diabetes can live full and active lives.
The family has to work together to support and guide the child in order for them to see their daily treatment regime as a positive step towards living a healthy and normal life.
Coping and learning to manage a chronic illness like diabetes is a big task for any child or teen.
It may lead to emotional and behavioural challenges.
If this happens, talk to a diabetes educator or psychologist.
It is also imperative that people in the child’s network know of and understand the condition so that they are alert to any symptoms or signs that their blood sugar is out of control and what they need to do to help them in an emergency situation.
Ultimately, the outcome of how well a child’s diabetes is managed depends on you, as the parent, and the systems you put in place to support them.