Published December 14, 2011
Approximately 80 people every day are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Type 1 diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes because it is usually first diagnosed in children, adolescents and young adults. Nonetheless, this disease can be found at any age, and it is a lifelong condition that requires close daily management. Improperly treated juvenile diabetes could have devastating consequences. Here is a guide to understanding the basics of juvenile diabetes:
A hand-sized organ called the pancreas regulates the body’s blood sugar levels by producing the hormone insulin. When a person has type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreas and causes it to stop producing insulin. Insulin helps the body process glucose, which is basically energy from food. Without insulin, the glucose would be left in the blood, where it can be toxic. To avoid the dangerous effects of rampant glucose, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to keep their blood sugar levels on an even keel. Monitoring diabetes requires a tiny blood test at least six times a day and leveling it out with insulin delivered through injections or an insulin pump.
The symptoms of diabetes vary depending on whether the blood sugar is very high or very low. The first signs of diabetes can include: extreme thirst, frequent urination, sudden vision changes, unexplained weight loss, fruity or sweet breath and lethargy or unconsciousness. When blood sugar is excessively high, a person is in a state of hyperglycemia, which can result in deep, rapid breathing, dry skin and mouth, a flushed face, nausea or stomach pain. Blood sugar that is too low indicates hypoglycemia. This can happen in diabetics who have taken too much insulin, and the symptoms include headache, hunger, nervousness, rapid heartbeat, shaking, sweating or weakness. When faced with any of these symptoms, a diabetic should check his blood sugar level immediately to ensure that glucose levels are under control.
Researchers are still working to determine the cause of juvenile diabetes. The prevailing misconception purports that diabetes is a familial disease, but the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation reports that only 10 percent of juvenile diabetes cases can be traced to immediate family history. Other causes could include environmental factors or exposure to some viruses. While the cause is still unknown, the process of diabetes in the body is fairly well understood. The dysfunctional immune system attacks pancreatic cells known as beta cells. These cells produce all of the body’s insulin, and without insulin, glucose stays in the blood, where it can cause irreparable damage to the organs.
Treatment for juvenile diabetes essentially boils down to a lifetime of blood sugar management. This includes a very regulated and reliable schedule for food, exercise and insulin. For children and adolescents, treatment helps maintain healthy physical growth and development. All people with diabetes should follow treatment to keep blood sugar levels at the golden mean to prevent negative complications. Eating and exercising regularly, monitoring blood sugar closely, and taking insulin reliably form the most essential parts of treating juvenile diabetes.