BY JAMIE LOBER
Kari is an active twelve year-old from Perry who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age nine. She says that some days can be a pain, but she tries not to let it stand in her way of doing things she loves like dancing and playing tennis. Kari praises her friends for being supportive and understanding when she needs a snack or juice if her blood sugar gets too low. She wants Middle Georgia families to become aware of the signs of juvenile diabetes and get tested.
Diabetes does not discriminate, with type 1 being traditionally seen in children. “Type 1 diabetes is caused by what we call an autoimmune disease where certain chemicals called antibodies kill the beta cells and they must go on insulin immediately,” explains Dr. Thomas Jones of Jones Center for Diabetes and Endocrine Wellness. It is important to take the time to understand diabetes and protect your child. “Diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States,” says Carole Radney, RN, and diabetes educator at Coliseum Medical Center Diabetes Outpatient Education Program in Macon.
Symptoms are easy to recognize. They might include: Excessive urination because the body tries to get rid of the extra sugar; Drink a lot to make up for all that peeing; Eat a lot because the body is hungry for the energy it can’t get from sugar; Lose weight because the body starts to use fat and muscle for fuel; Feel tired, sometimes flu-like fatigue; Unusual drowsiness; and/or blurred vision.
Sometimes you may be able to catch diabetes before it actually shows up. “There is such thing as pre-diabetes where you are at risk to get it and your blood sugar is higher than normal but you have not been diagnosed yet,” says Radney. If your child is in a pre-diabetic state, he can take action to prevent the onset of juvenile diabetes. “Number one is to get out and exercise,” emphasizes Radney. Your child can build up gradually and start with physical activities he enjoys. “The American Diabetes Association recommends building up slowly with achievable goals. Some people are more successful if they get up and exercise first thing in the morning and get it out of the way,” says Radney.
Prevention comes down to the basics including: diet; exercise; screening for juvenile diabetes; practicing a heart healthy lifestyle; and checking cholesterol levels.
Juvenile diabetes does not have to be a horrible diagnosis. “There are many professional athletes, politicians, judges, doctors and other people who have been successful in life that are insulin-dependent and have learned to control through education and self-discipline and lead a normal healthy life,” reminds Dr. Jones. Treatment comes down to the basics: diet, exercise, insulin, and self-monitoring blood glucose levels.
Unfortunately, diabetes does not go away and can have serious consequences if not managed well. “It can cause complications like heart disease, stroke, amputations, nerve damage, blindness, and kidney failure,” informs Radney. It is possible to manage diabetes, usually with the help of a pediatric endocrinologist.
There is another form of diabetes called type 2 or adult diabetes. “The body’s insulin production has slowed down and does not make as much. We used to not see it until age fifty or sixty but now we are seeing it in our children and adolescents. It is frightening,” shares Kim Sinclair, RN and manager of Medical Center of Georgia Diabetes Healthways in Macon. Although it runs in families, there are other factors that influence the onset of type 2 diabetes. “Africans, Latinos and Indians have more type 2 diabetes but if you are overweight and inactive, you have two significant risk factors for that gene to express itself and show up,” explains Sinclair. Type 2 differs from type 1 because it is not an autoimmune disease. “Usually there is autoimmune resistance involved which causes the pancreas to work hard pumping out extra insulin to overcome the insulin-resistance. When it works hard, it quits producing that much insulin. There are several hormones that contribute to that,” explains Karen Adams, RN at Houston Healthcare in Warner Robins.
Although there is no cure, you may feel your diabetes has disappeared by making healthy lifestyle choices. “We call it diet control diabetes. You can make all the symptoms go away, control it, prevent all complications and achieve normal blood sugar without medication with a healthy lifestyle,” says Sinclair. Remember that you are not alone. “Someone who develops diabetes needs to be informed about the disease, complications, proper treatment, exercise, regimen diet and have a positive attitude because it can be controlled. It does not have to be embarrassing if you are a child,” insists Jones.
Adjustments can be made for children with juvenile diabetes. “My wife and I run a camp for children with diabetes called Camp Little Shot. It has been in existence for twenty-nine years and is the longest freestanding diabetes camp that is free for all children,” shares Jones. Medical personnel are there to make sure blood sugar does not drop too low or go too high, which would be a liability for a regular camp. Regardless if your child has type 1 or type 2, he can still have fun. “He should get in on a proper recreational program, be active physically, learn about proper nutrition, and develop a good meal plan,” encourages Jones.
There may be a future without juvenile diabetes. “Stem cell research introduces stem cells into the body that replicate the cells that make insulin. There are all kinds of exciting things out there and there are several major arms of research that look very promising,” shares Sinclair. Researchers at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation predict that an artificial pancreas which may have the potential to read glucose levels and deliver insulin will be available in the next few years. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has also paired with SmartCells, Inc. to create self-regulating insulin that is given daily. Unlike other insulin, it is able to efficiently control blood glucose levels while decreasing the chance of hypoglycemia. The insulin will be a significant advancement in juvenile diabetes as children will require fewer injections and less monitoring. The Joslin Diabetes Center is making strides too. “It is the biggest one in the United States and they have found a lot of our newest treatments and medications that we use. There is always research going on,” assures Radney. With heightened awareness of juvenile diabetes, you can start today by making the commitment as a family to lead a healthy lifestyle and educate others. Early detection is the key to a positive outcome.