As a parent, I sometimes nag -- and I'll bet that you do, too. For instance, how often do you say things like this?
"I don't want to hear your excuses. You're not too tired -- go take out the trash."
"You just went to the bathroom. You can hold it until the end of the movie."
"You don't need a snack or another drink of water. Go back to bed."
"Don't talk to me in that tone of voice. Go to your room."
I know I've said all these things at one time or another. But here's the thing: If you're saying them all the time, there's a chance that your child isn't simply being demanding, irritable, or lazy.
Instead, your child may be displaying symptoms of diabetes.
These days, we're all aware that there's an epidemic of diabetes in adults. But diabetes rates aren't just soaring in grownups; they're rising in kids, too. A recent study found that the incidence of Type 1 diabetes in kids up to 9 years of age jumped by 21 percent between 2001 and 2009. During the same time, the incidence of Type 2 diabetes among children between 10 and 19 rose by 30.5 percent.
Currently, more than 200,000 American kids have diabetes -- and if the trends continue, that number will keep rising. So if you're a parent, diabetes definitely needs to be on your radar. Here's a look at what this disease is and how to spot it.
There are two types of diabetes that kids or adults can develop. Here's a quick look at each one.
Type 1 diabetes -- what we used to call "juvenile" diabetes -- typically strikes kids, teens, and young adults. It causes insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to die, preventing the body from getting blood sugar into cells. Genes play a big role in Type 1diabetes, but rising rates also point to environmental causes.
Type 2 diabetes -- once considered an "adults-only" disease -- now affects thousands of older children and teens as well. In this type, the cells in the pancreas still make insulin, but they make too little of it or the body can't use it efficiently. Genes play a role in this type of diabetes, too -- but the biggest risk factors for kids are obesity and a lack of exercise.
Type 1 diabetes strikes quickly, often making kids severely ill within weeks. Type 2 is sneakier, and its symptoms develop over months or years. Without proper treatment, either type can lead to nerve damage, heart disease, or blindness.
Spotting the Red Flags for Diabetes
The good news about diabetes is that both types are treatable. Kids with Type 1 diabetes can live long and healthy lives with the help of insulin, a good diet, and exercise. And kids with Type 2 diabetes can often control their disease with diet alone -- or even become diabetes-free when they change their lifestyle. I've seen it happen often in my own practice.
But we can't help these kids until we diagnose them. And unfortunately, most parents can't recognize the symptoms of diabetes in kids. One British survey, for instance, found that only 14 percent of parents know the main warning signs of Type 1 diabetes.
As a result, kids can suffer for weeks or months with undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes, and for years with undiagnosed Type 2. And all that time, the disease is ravaging their bodies.
So how can you protect your own child? Learn the symptoms of diabetes in kids -- and keep your eyes open, because early symptoms are often subtle. Here's a list of them.
- Excess thirst and hunger
- Weight loss
- A constant need to "pee"
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Breathing problems
- Itchy skin
- Numbness in the hands or feet
- Sores that heal too slowly
Kids with Type 2 diabetes also may develop patches of velvety light brown or black skin (a condition called acanthosis nigricans). This is a big red flag -- so even if it's the only sign you see, ask your pediatrician to check it out.
If there's a history of diabetes in your family, be especially vigilant. Also, keep a close eye on your child if he or she is overweight. (And to help prevent that weight problem from leading to diabetes, feed your child a low-carb, low-junk diet that's high in meat, eggs, veggies, and healthy fats -- and make exercise a big priority.)
If you spot any symptoms that worry you, don't hesitate -- make an immediate appointment with your child's doctor. I know it's scary to contemplate the idea that your child may have diabetes. But as parents, we need to face facts... and the fact is that with diabetes, every day counts. So if your child is constantly tired, hungry, thirsty, and irritable, don't just nag, and don't take chances. Instead, take action.