Diabetes Mellitus - What is it?

There are several types of Diabetes Mellitus (generally referred to as Diabetes), but only one which is likely to affect a baby and this is known as Type 1 or insulin dependent diabetes. It also sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes as it predominantly emerges in childhood.

Type 1 Diabetes essentially refers to an autoimmune disorder that stops the pancreas from producing enough insulin. Insulin is vital in helping your baby use glucose from the blood stream for growth and energy. Without it the glucose builds up in the blood but is never used as energy, it simply overflows into the urine and passes out of the body. Side effects can range from persistent fatigue to heart disease, blindness and even death. But the good news is that, in the UK Diabetes can be carefully monitored and managed and your child has every chance of having a full and ‘normal’ life.

There is no getting away from the fact that this is a lifelong condition that requires daily tests and injections and regular medical consultations, all of which can be very difficult for families when the patient is so young, but progress is consistently being made in the field to help management of the condition and most children with Diabetes quickly adapt and even take ownership of their own medication and management.

The UK has the world’s fifth highest rate of Type 1 diagnosis in children, with 24.5 per 100,000 children aged 0 to 14 in the UK diagnosed with the condition every year (source: Diabetes UK)

How is it diagnosed?

Most commonly it will be the parents who notice several of the subtle early symptoms of this condition. These might include:

  • An unquenchable thirst
  • Noticeably frequent urination – often excessive amounts despite not drinking enough to quench their thirst
  • Constant inexplicable fatigue
  • Fruity/sweet/acetone scent to the breath
  • Weight loss/loss of muscle bulk
  • Slow healing of cuts and grazes

If you notice any of these, take your baby to a GP or pediatrician. From here, if Diabetes is suspected a urine test will usually be the first step. If sugar shows up in the urine it’s a sign that Diabetes is a likely possibility and this will be followed up with a blood test to check sugar levels and key tones (fats in the blood).

What does the treatment look like?

Diagnosis is only the beginning of the process when it comes to Diabetes. It is a condition that requires daily:

  • prick tests (although less invasive measurement methods are emerging to make this easier for younger patients)
  • insulin injections to maintain correct levels in the system
  • monitoring of diet, activity levels and calorie intake vs energy output

As well as regular medical consultations to avoid side-effects and impact on other parts of the body in later life.

“In the UK we try to help families adjust to this reality and get to grips with all they must know and do as best we can,” explains consultant paediatrician and Chief Medical Officer at EmbryoCare, Dr Fysh. “This often involves being referred to a specialist centre where your child would be admitted for stabilization and to the family how best to manage and cope with the diagnosis.”

Causes & Prevention

It is important to understand that Type 1 Diabetes is not related to sugar intake or lifestyle. Researchers continue to try and identify genetic or environmental factors that may trigger the condition. Being exposed to a virus in the womb can be a risk factor, but there is no real way to predict or trace the cause of most cases of Type 1 Diabetes. It is important that parents understand that there is nothing they could have done to prevent their child’s Diabetes.

What can be prevented are the subsequent complications that can occur. By managing the condition very carefully, getting regular eye checks, providing a full and healthy diet and encouraging physical activity, parents can help their developing child to avoid side effects such as hypos (triggered by too much insulin or too little food, possibly resulting in a lack of consciousness or seizures) and longer term problems with heart, kidneys or eye sight.

Where to go for support

Furthermore, keep an eye out for groups and camps that can help your child meet other children dealing with Diabetes and serve to ‘normalise’ their condition. It can also be valuable to meet other parents struggling with the same issues and concerns. EmbryoCare can take no responsibility for recommending specific camps or groups but there are multiple options available.

EmbryoCare Future Family Insurance is a unique policy that provides expectant mothers with added assurance from the 20 week scan* through to their child's second birthday. EmbryoCare aims to ease the financial impact of unforeseen costs that can result from 14 covered conditions - including Diabetes Mellitus.

*EmbryoCare's policy can be accessed following a clear 20 week scan from £16 per month.

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