Type 2 diabetes is a disease primarily found in adults and rarely in children. One would hardly hear of a child being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes; however, this has changed during the pandemic. According to the CDC, the condition is a new growing problem among pediatric patients.
New data collected at a hospital in Baton Rouge by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), which was presented at their 81st Scientific Session, indicated alarming numbers:
The hospitalization rate for new-onset type 2 diabetes was 0.62 percent in 2020 as compared to 0.27% in 2019.
Children admitted to the hospital in 2020 had more severe diabetes with higher blood glucose, higher A1C, and higher indicators of dehydration compared to children admitted in 2019.
More children in 2020 presented with severe conditions that typically require admission to the intensive care unit compared to 2019, like diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic syndrome. (American Diabetes Association 2021)
Why Is It Happening?
While the underlying reasons for severe diabetes in children aren’t clear, medical experts analyzed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could damage the pancreas. This gland produces insulin needed to convert blood sugar into energy.
The compulsion of wearing masks and using electronic gadgets to attend online classes amid the pandemic since last year has affected children’s lives substantially. These children haven’t gone for their routine checkups and examinations at doctor’s clinics. Families feared the exposure of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and to safeguard their children; they chose to keep them mostly indoors.
Missing doctor appointments, a sedentary lifestyle with zero to no physical activity, unhealthy eating habits, and disturbed sleep patterns are other reasons for type 2 diabetes in children.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also explains the medical reasons that put children at an increased risk of the disease, like family history with type 2 diabetes, mothers getting diabetes during pregnancy, preexisting conditions related to insulin resistance, etc. The CDC advises getting a thorough checkup done for children who are overweight or have any of the underlying risk factors.
What is Type 2 Diabetes in Children?
Type 2 diabetes in children is a chronic disease linked with glucose. The child’s body is not able to respond to insulin, thereby forming glucose in the bloodstream. It’s called insulin resistance. The increased sugar levels in children’s bodies can cause health problems like high cholesterol, blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, etc.
Type 2 diabetes can affect almost every major organ in your child’s body, including the nerves, eyes, blood vessels, and kidneys. If left untreated, it can weaken the immune system and lead to severe long-term complications.
Type 2 diabetes is more likely to affect children who are overweight, female, prone to insulin resistance, or has a family history. (Dansinger 2021)
Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes in Children
Some of the symptoms in children may not be noticeable in the early stages. In some cases, the signs and disorders are diagnosed during their health checkup. The symptoms include:
- Excessive urination and increased thirst – large deposits of sugar in your child’s bloodstream flush fluid from tissues which results in frequent thirst as well as urination
- Fuzzy vision – similarly fluid may be washing out from the lenses of your child’s eyes. It leads to a lack of focus and blurry vision
- Fatigue – body feeling drained or exhausted
- Skin darkening – certain areas of skin tend to darken. They are usually around the armpit or neck
- Sudden/unexplained weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Heavy breathing
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
- Dry mouth
- Slow healing of wounds and cuts
- Eating disorders
- Emotional issues like depression and anxiety
(Mayo Clinic 2020)
Prevention and Medical Help
In most cases, a healthy lifestyle reduces the chance of getting type 2 diabetes in children – physical exercise, adequate water and sleep, a balanced diet, and managing weight. If the child is diagnosed with the disease, they can still follow a routine lifestyle to keep it under check. Your child may need oral medication or oral treatment if these lifestyle measures are not sufficient.
The CDC-led National Diabetes Prevention Program provides a lifestyle change program helping people to make changes in their day-to-day functioning to lead healthier lives.
However, don’t forget to speak to your doctor immediately if your child experiences constant discomfort or has one or many symptoms. Your doctor can guide you with the required diagnosis, treatment, and next steps for the child’s good health.
American Diabetes Association, Press Release. “New Study Shows Hospitalization Rates for New Onset Pediatric Type 2 Diabetes Doubled During COVID-19 Pandemic.” New Study Shows Hospitalization Rates for New Onset Pediatric Type 2 Diabetes Doubled During COVID-19 Pandemic | ADA, 25 June 2021, www.diabetes.org/newsroom/press-releases/2021/new-study-shows-hospitalization-rates-for-new-onset-pediatric-t2d-doubled-during-COVID-19.
“Child Type 2 Diabetes: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments.” Edited by Michael Dansinger, WebMD, WebMD, 7 Feb. 2021, www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-2-diabetes-in-children.
Mayo Clinic, Satff. “Type 2 Diabetes in Children.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Aug. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes-in-children/symptoms-causes/syc-20355318.