Diabetes in Children

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When a child has diabetes, they can face a lifetime of medical responsibilities. From taking insulin every day to changing their diet and exercise habits, a diabetes diagnosis requires ongoing management and care.

At SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, we provide families what they need to manage their child’s diabetes. Partnering with you, we guide you through the various treatment options and extend support over the many years to come. With the right care, your child can avoid serious complications and live a full life.

Signs & Symptoms of Pediatric Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes that prevent the body from regulating its blood sugar. Children and teens tend to be affected by type 1 diabetes. This is an autoimmune disease that causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin, a hormone that enables the body to convert food to energy.

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that prevents the body from effectively using its insulin and is usually diagnosed in adults. However, type 2 diabetes is on the rise among children due to childhood obesity.

Children most at risk for diabetes have a history of diabetes in their family or have unhealthy eating habits. If not properly treated, diabetes can lead to complications including kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, heart attacks, and strokes.

At first, there may be no symptoms but over time, your child may notice:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Excessive hunger or thirst, even after eating
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Heavy breathing
  • Slow healing of sores or cuts
  • Itchy skin
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

See your child’s doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms.

Diagnosing Pediatric Diabetes

There are several different blood tests used to diagnose diabetes in children.

For type 1 diabetes, a Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test will indicate your child’s average blood sugar level for the past two to three months.

If your child is suspected of having type 2 diabetes, two blood tests will be run, taken on different days.

If your child is diagnosed with diabetes, a trained endocrinologist will develop the right management plan.

This may include referring your child to other specialists to treat any related complications. From here, it will be important to get follow-up tests to check your child’s blood sugar (A1C) levels.

To make sure the management plan is working, your doctor will also periodically test your child's:

  • Cholesterol levels
  • Thyroid function
  • Kidney function
  • Blood pressure and growth
  • Sites where your child tests blood sugar and delivers insulin

In addition, your child will need regular eye exams, and other screenings based on their age and prognosis.

Diabetes Therapy for Children

While there is no cure for diabetes, your child can achieve a healthy blood sugar level with the right management and therapy. This means getting insulin and medication and integrating physical activity, weight loss, and changes in eating.

Type 1 diabetes patients must closely measure food consumption, matching it with multiple daily injections of insulin. In this case, an insulin pump may be helpful.

Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes blood sugar monitoring, healthy eating, regular exercise, and sometimes the use of insulin or other medications.

Diabetes requires life-long treatment. It will require your child to receive regular check-ups and make changes to their treatment plan as they develop. At every stage, your child will receive personalized, continuous diabetes care at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. This includes a dedicated SLUCare Physician Group endocrinologist and nurse practitioner for all of your child’s recurring visits - in addition to referrals to see any other specialists.

You child will also have the opportunity to participate in:

  • Educational classes for families to learn how to use glucose monitoring systems and insulin pumps
  • Diabetes Transition Program for older teens transitioning to adult care
  • An Impaired Glucose Tolerance Clinic focusing on lifestyle changes
  • A Lipid Clinic offering both medication and nutritional therapies
  • Research studies including Treatment Options for Type 2 Diabetes in Adolescents and Youth (TODAY) study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Working with you, we’ll develop a plan that works for your family and helps your child avoid life-altering complications. To speak with someone on our team, or to learn more about our services, call 314-577-5648.

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