Type One Diabetes Rising Among Younger Children in Philadelphia

Alongside the growing concern of doctors all over the world at increasing rates of type 2 diabetes, physicians in Philadelphia have voiced concerns over studies indicating a growing increase in rates of type 1 diabetes among children under the age of 5. Type one diabetes is characterized by the body’s immune system attacking its own pancreas, resulting in the destruction of vitally important beta cells and making it impossible for the body to produce more than trace amounts of insulin. Those with the disease are dependent on insulin medication in the form of insulin syringes, insulin pen needles, or insulin pumps, as well as life-long daily monitoring of blood-glucose levels.


According to the Philadelphia Pediatric Diabetes Registry, diagnoses of type 1 diabetes in young children jumped 70% between 1985 and 2004; newer data show such cases continued to climb between 2005 and 2009. None of the researchers is sure of why the spike in diagnoses is occurring; theories include rising obesity rates, decreased exposure to infectious agents resulting in an immune system gone haywire, and even increases in vitamin D deficiency and earlier exposure to cow’s milk. Researchers are attempting to isolate a conclusive cause, which is very difficult indeed; in the meantime, Terri Lipman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing recommends that parents be more alert than ever to the early symptoms of type 1 diabetes. Lipman points out that it can be more difficult to diagnose the disease in younger children, who may not have the awareness to notice excessive urination or thirst, which are two of the earliest symptoms. Patients with type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood-glucose levels multiple times per day, along with taking several daily doses of insulin—whether through insulin syringe, insulin pen needles, or insulin pumps. The disease can be very costly indeed to treat over the course of the lifetime.


In spite of the rapid increase in cases, many parents are unaware of the early warning signs of diabetes in young children, which can vary slightly from symptoms exhibited by older kids. Extreme thirst, frequent and copious urination, intense hunger, sudden bedwetting, and unexplained weight loss are warning signs that can be detected by vigilant parents and medical professionals; at younger ages especially, parents who are their child’s primary caretaker should take note of low-energy behavior, excessive thirst, and other out-of-the-ordinary behaviors. It can be very difficult to help teach a child with type one diabetes the necessity of taking care of themselves, particularly in light of the pain involved in symptom management—injections, whether performed by an insulin syringe, insulin pen needle, or insulin pump, are painful, and while blood-glucose monitors become less invasive every year, they still require a blood sample to get the information that is so vital. Additionally, it can be very difficult to get toddlers to eat what they should—and as much as they should—for the insulin they take to work properly. While researchers attempt to isolate a cause for so many new type one diabetes cases, parents must be vigilant everywhere—to make sure that their child’s disease is diagnosed early and treated quickly and consistently.

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