Diabetes in Children

Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in children: 90-95 per cent of under 16s with diabetes have this type.
It is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is classified as an autoimmune disease, meaning a condition in which the body’s immune system ‘attacks’ one of the body’s own tissues or organs.

In Type 1 diabetes it’s the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas that are destroyed.

How common is it?

Childhood diabetes isn’t common, but there are marked variations around the world:

  • in England and Wales 17 children per 100,000 develop diabetes each year
  • in Scotland the figure is 25 per 100,000
  • in Finland it’s 43 per 100,000
  • In Japan it’s 3 per 100,000.
  • In India No exact statistics but it is rising!!

The last 30 years has seen a threefold increase in the number of cases of childhood diabetes.
In Europe and America, Type 2 diabetes has been seen for the first time in young people. This is probably in part caused by the increasing trend towards obesity in our society.

But obesity doesn’t explain the increase in the numbers of Type 1 diabetes in children – who make up the majority of new cases.

What causes childhood diabetes?
As with adults, the cause of childhood diabetes is not understood. It probably involves a combination of genes and environmental triggers.
The majority of children who develop Type 1 don’t have a family history of diabetes.

What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms are the same as in adults. They tend to come on over a few weeks:

  • thirst
  • weight loss
  • tiredness
  • frequent urination.

Symptoms that are more typical for children include:

  • tummy pains
  • headaches
  • behaviour problems.

Sometimes diabetic acidosis occurs before diabetes is diagnosed, although this happens less often in the UK due to better awareness of the symptoms to look out for.

Doctors should consider the possibility of diabetes in any child who has an otherwise unexplained history of illness or tummy pains for a few weeks.

If diabetes is diagnosed, your child should be referred to the regional specialist in childhood diabetes.

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