A chronic disease, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (Type I) in children is due to a lack of insulin. Insufficient insulin results in an increase in blood glucose concentration (hyperglycemia), causing excessive urination and constant thirst and hunger. An accumulation in the body of chemicals called ketones occurs when there is a severe lack of insulin. A high sugar level is not in itself dangerous, but high ketone levels are.
The onset of diabetes can be swift and may take some time to stabilize. Most diabetic children need insulin injections and a strictly controlled diet.
IS THERE A CURE? Not at the present time. Type I diabetes occurs because cells of the immune system attack the insulin-producing islet tissue in the pancreas. Any cure must therefore replace the damaged tissue in some way. For this reason, transplantation offers the only viable therapeutic approach, but rejection of the transplanted tissue poses a serious problem.
There is promising research being carried out that suggests it might be possible to graft tissue into the body that will not be recognized as foreign. Already this approach has worked experimentally and has been used to reverse diabetes in a number of laboratory animals, without the need for anti-rejection therapy. It is quite possible that diabetes will be cured with transplants in your child’s lifetime. Progress has also been made with genetic research and the recent discovery of two new genes has opened up the possibility that the condition could be prevented.
ADJUSTING TO DIABETES: It can be quite frightening to be told your child has insulin-dependent diabetes, but the disease will not prevent a child from leading a full and active life.
How the family handles a child’s diabetes helps to determine the way in which the child accepts or denies the disease and becomes a balanced, mature person. Parents will soon know a lot about diabetes itself, the need for insulin, the technique for injection, and about the importance of proper food intake and exercise. They’ll also need to know how to look out for, detect, and treat an insulin reaction.