Thursday, 2 December 2010

Start Young to Reduce Diabetes Risk

Start Young to Reduce Diabetes Risk

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic and life-altering diseases in children and adolescents. It is estimated that 151,000 children and adolescents have diabetes and that about 2 million adolescents age 12-19 have pre-diabetes. In the past, when diabetes struck a child, it was presumed to be Type 1, however, Type 2 diabetes is occurring children and adolescents with increasing frequency. Diabetes is not just a problem of children; it is estimated that in the next 25 to 40 years the occurrence of diabetes in all Americans will double or triple.

Although Type 1 and Type 2 are both forms of diabetes, they have very different pathological origins. Type 1 diabetes - previously called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or juvenile-onset diabetes - develops when the immune system destroys the body's ability to produce insulin and regulate blood sugar levels. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin to control their blood-sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes typically strikes in children and young adults. Unfortunately, Type 2 diabetes, which was previously called adult-onset diabetes, is occurring in young people at alarmingly high rates.

While Type 1 diabetes is thought to be an auto-immune disease, the increase in incidence of Type 2 diabetes is related to increasing rates of obesity and low levels of physical activity. Children and adolescents diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are generally between 10 and 19 years old, obese, have a strong family history for Type 2 diabetes, and have insulin resistance. Having a parent with Type 2 diabetes increases a child's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 50 percent. Both genetics and the family's activity and eating environment most likely contribute to this increased risk.

Often a precursor to Type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes is a condition in which individuals have blood-glucose levels higher than normal but not high enough to officially be classified as diabetes. The steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes also reduce the risk for pre-diabetes.

The warning signs of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are similar. A child or adolescent with Type 2 diabetes may experience excessive thirst, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss with stable or even increased intake of food, blurred vision, slow healing sores or frequent infections and feeling tired. Another commonly seen sign of pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes is the development of acanthosis nigricans. Acanthosis nigricans is a condition where individuals have patches of thick, dark skin that feels almost like velvet on their neck or under their arms. Acanthosis nigricans does not develop in children with Type 1 diabetes. Although these are the common symptoms, some children and teens will not notice any of these warning signs and will be diagnosed during a routine checkup.

While there are no preventative measures that can be taken to reduce a child's risk of getting Type 1 diabetes, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is a primary risk factor for Type 2 diabetes in children. The more fatty tissue a child has, the more resistant his or her cells become to insulin. The good news is that many children who have pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes can improve their risk profile and blood sugar levels simply by losing excessive weight. Another risk factor for Type 2 diabetes is inactivity. The less active a child is, the greater his or her risk. Physical activity helps control weight, uses glucose as energy, and makes the body's cells more responsive to insulin. While family history, race and gender are also risk factors, proper diet and exercise can have a huge impact on reducing one's likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes can be easy to ignore, especially in the early stages when symptoms may not be as noticeable. However, it is crucial that it be taken serious at any age. The condition can affect nearly every major organ in a child's body, including the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Maintaining good glucose control can dramatically reduce the risk of these complications.

Children or teens whose parents suspect they may have pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes should see their primary care physician for an evaluation. If a child is found to have pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, families should seek the guidance and care of a diabetes team that includes an endocrinologist and certified diabetes educators specializing in pediatrics. And it is important to remember that the first step in treating Type 2 diabetes is taking the appropriate steps in weight management, diet and exercise to attempt to prevent it.

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