Diabetes In Children; Signs, Symptoms and Complications

Types of Diabetes

Depending upon the cause behind the abnormal insulin function, there are two types of diabetes; type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes occurs when there is insufficient or absent insulin synthesis and release in our body which results in high glucose levels in the blood. It is more common in children.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when there is decreased sensitivity of insulin receptors to the insulin which in turn causes decreased insulin function and increased blood glucose levels.

Type 1 diabetes


Type 1 diabetes occurs mostly in children and is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes. In this type, your child’s body does not produce sufficient insulin or any insulin at all and thus depends on external insulin for proper glucose metabolism.


In type 1 diabetes, the signs and symptoms develop very rapidly, usually over days and weeks, unlike that of type 2 diabetes. This is because of almost absent insulin and very high blood glucose levels. The following signs and symptoms appear:

1. Increased thirst and frequent urination

As mentioned earlier, the increased glucose level in the blood is what produces most of the symptoms. High glucose level increases osmotic pressure and draws water out of the tissues. This dries tissues out and increases their water demand which manifests in the form of thirst.

Similarly, excess water that has moved into the bloodstream is filtered out in the kidney and the patient experiences frequent urination. Bedwetting might be seen in young children.

2. Extreme hunger despite eating properly

Since insulin regulates the uptake of glucose by the tissues, its absence results in decrease uptake and hence reduced energy production in the tissues. Lack of energy produces the feeling of intense hunger.

3. Sudden and unexplained weight loss

This is probably the most initial symptom which appears in diabetic children. Diabetic patients eat a lot due to intense hunger but also experience sudden and unexplained weight loss. This is because decrease glucose uptake by the tissues and reduced energy production cause shrinkage of muscles and fat stores.

4. Fatigue and body aches

Lack of glucose uptake by the tissues and reduced energy production makes your child lethargic and tired most of the times.

5. Irritability or behavioral changes

Diabetes produces a complexity of symptoms which altogether influence the mood and behavior of your child who might get irritable most of the time and show a decline in overall performance at school.

6. Changes in vision

Like all other symptoms, blurred vision is also a consequence of high blood glucose levels. Increased glucose pulls fluid out of the lens of the eyes which becomes unable to focus clearly. Your child might watch television and screen up too close or complain of headaches and related symptoms.

7. The fruity smell in-breath (Acetone breath)

Lack of glucose availability causes the tissues to burn fat for energy. This process produces ketones which have a fruity odor.

8. Increased vulnerability to infections

A diabetic child is more likely to have infections than normal children. Girls are most likely to have an increased incidence of genital yeast infections. Babies might get diaper rash caused by yeast.

9. Slow wound healing

Diabetic patients fail to heal their wounds properly. In many cases, wounds get worse with superimposed infection. So look for any wound on your child’s body which does not heal properly.

Consult a doctor immediately

As soon as you see any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms developing in your child, you should immediately consult a doctor to slow down the progression of diabetes.

Late Symptoms – Complications of Diabetes in Children

Diabetes, if left uncontrolled, leads to abnormally high blood glucose levels and produces many complications that mainly involve blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves.

Complications of type 1 diabetes in children include:

1. The disease of heart and blood vessel

Diabetes directly affects blood vessels and heart and increases the risk of coronary artery disease which causes chest pain, stroke, heart attack and blood pressure problems in later life. Most of these problems appear due to the narrowing of vessels; atherosclerosis, which compromises blood supply to the heart.

2. Damage to the nerves

Excess glucose levels narrow the blood vessels which supply blood to nerves. The procedure is the same as that of heart problems. Lack of nourishment of nerves, especially those supplying legs, occur which causes abnormal sensations, tingling, pain and numbness in the child’s legs. However, this symptom appears gradually, over a period of time.

3. Damage to kidneys

High blood glucose also damages the blood vessels supplying the kidneys of your child as well as those which filter the waste out of your child’s blood. This causes marked damage to the kidneys which might be irreversible leading to end-stage renal failure which requires dialysis and transplant. Your child might complain of reduced or absent urination.

4. Damage to the eyes

As discussed in the early symptoms of diabetes in children, high blood glucose affects blood vessels supplying the retina. This leads to poor vision, blindness, and glaucoma or cataract development.

5. Skin problems

If your child is diabetic, he/she will complain of skin itching, fungal infections, bacterial infections and various other skin problems.

6. Osteoporosis- Bone problems

Diabetes is a culprit for bone abnormalities as well. It reduces bone mineral density and increases the risk of development of osteoporosis in children suffering from diabetes.

Risk Factors for Type 1 Diabetes

Following are some of the major risk factors which contribute to the development of type 1 diabetes in children:

1. Family history

A strong family history of type 1 diabetes in any of the parents or siblings indicates a high risk for diabetes in your child.

2. The genetic makeup of your child

It is seen that the presence of certain genes is associated with an increased risk of diabetes.

3. Ethnicity

Diabetes is more common in certain races as compared to the others. It is more common in Asians. In the United States, it is more common in non-Hispanic white children.

4. Certain viral infections

There are certain viruses that destroy islet cells in your child’s body which produce insulin.