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How Diabetes Can Affect Your Child

If your child has type 1 diabetes, it's important to know how it can affect her body. Helping her manage her disease can help keep complications at bay. You can help your kid by knowing what can signal a problem.

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Blood Sugar Challenges

When you have type 1 diabetes, your body doesn't make enough insulin. Normally, your body breaks down carbs into a type of sugar called glucose to use for energy. Without insulin, your child's body can't turn glucose into energy, and it collects in her blood. Sometimes, blood sugar that's too high or too low can bring problems.

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Low Blood Sugar

Hypoglycemia can happen when your child's blood sugar levels are low. It's also called insulin shock. Symptoms might include:

  • Dizziness
  • Sweating and chills
  • Feeling shaky
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Hunger and nausea
  • Irritability

You can treat hypoglycemia with 15-20 grams of glucose or simple carbohydrates. You can get that from 2 tablespoons of raisins or 1/2 cup of juice or regular soda. Glucose gel can also do the trick.

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High Blood Sugar

Hyperglycemia is when there's too much glucose in the blood. Symptoms can include:

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Needing to go to the bathroom more often
  • Feeling tired
  • Losing weight
  • Blurred vision

You can sometimes treat high blood sugar with exercise and diet. But if your child's blood glucose is above 240 mg/dL, you should check his urine for ketones. That could signal a more serious problem called DKA.

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When blood sugar gets too high, your child's body can make blood acids called ketones. Ketone buildup can lead to a serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA. Symptoms can come on very quickly (sometimes within 24 hours) and can include:

  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Having to go to the bathroom more often
  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain
  • Fruity-scented breath
  • Confusion
  • Fast heart rate
  • Weight loss

If you see signs of DKA in your child, see his doctor or go to the ER right away.

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Eye Problems

People with diabetes have a greater chance of eye problems. So it's important that your child have regular eye exams. Problems can range from poor vision to blindness. Most people with diabetes only have minor eye trouble if their diabetes is under control.

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They can make vision cloudy or make it harder to see at night. People with diabetes are 60% more likely to get cataracts. They're also more likely to get them at a younger age. Sunglasses and glare-control lenses can help if your child's cataracts are mild. Surgery is necessary to treat them if they really interfere with how your child sees.

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Having diabetes means your child is also more likely to get glaucoma. That's when pressure builds up inside the eye. That can damage the retina and optic nerve. The risk is greater the longer someone has diabetes. If untreated, glaucoma can cause vision loss. People with diabetes are 40% more likely to have glaucoma.

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Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetes can hurt the blood vessels in the retina. High blood sugar and high blood pressure can make them weaker. Changes in the retina usually don't happen before a child reaches puberty and has had diabetes for a few years. Early on, a child with retinopathy may have no symptoms. But if untreated, it can lead to blindness. Thankfully, blood sugar control can slow down or even reverse the damage.

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Kidney Problems

High blood sugar can damage the kidneys. When they aren't working right, waste can build up in the blood and affect how other organs work. Kidney disease doesn't usually have symptoms early on. Later, you may have swelling, weight loss, trouble sleeping, and appetite issues.

Doctors usually test kids for kidney problems once a year if they've reached puberty and have diabetes for a few years.

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Heart and Blood Vessel Disease

Having diabetes raises your child's odds for things like heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, narrowing of the arteries, and high blood pressure. Help prevent problems by making sure your child eats healthy, exercises, and takes diabetes medicine.

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Nerve Damage

High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels that take care of your child's nerves. Called diabetic neuropathy, early symptoms include numbness, burning, tingling, and pain, especially in the feet and legs. Because of nerve damage, your child may not realize she has a cut on her foot until it's infected. Neuropathy is more common after puberty, but it can happen earlier.

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Gum Disease and Other Mouth Problems

Too much glucose in your saliva can also let bacteria grow in your mouth. This can cause bad breath and lead to plaque, which hardens into tartar. If it's not removed, tartar can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis) and even advanced gum disease (periodontitis). Signs of gum disease include sensitive, bleeding, painful, receding gums. It's important for kids with diabetes to brush and floss every day and get regular dental checkups.

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Skin Issues

Having diabetes may make your child more likely to have skin problems, like bacterial and fungal infections.

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Celiac Disease

This is when the body has a reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. That reaction would keep your child from getting nutrients his body needs. Celiac disease is about 10 times more common if your child has diabetes. Symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Pain
  • Gas
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

If your doctor thinks your child has it, he may order a blood test to confirm it and suggest that your child try a gluten-free diet.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 01/16/2020 Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 16, 2020


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American Diabetes Association: "DKA (ketoacidosis) & Ketones," "Eye Complications," "Hyperglycemia (High Blood Glucose)," "Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose)," "Kidney Disease (Nephropathy)," "Type 1 Diabetes."

Diabetes Forecast: "Understanding Celiac Disease."

JDRF: "Blood Sugar Symptoms and Diabetes."

KidsHealth: "Long Term Complications of Diabetes."

MayoClinic: "Diabetic Ketoacidosis," "Type 1 diabetes in children."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diabetes, Gum Disease, & Other Dental Problems."

UptoDate: "Patient education: Diabetes mellitus type 1: Overview (Beyond the Basics)."

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 16, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.