The term diabetes mellitus (diabetes) refers to disorders of sugar metabolism that permanently increase blood glucose levels. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own cells attack the pancreas. These produce the hormone insulin which is necessary to transfer sugar from the blood into the cells. If the beta cells are completely destroyed, those affected no longer produce the body's own insulin – the sugar level in the blood rises. Sufferers have to take in the vital hormone insulin. Alarmingly, the increase among children and adolescents parallels the growing number of overweight and obese people in the 0-20 age group.
Diabetes is not a disease that occurs acutely overnight. In both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the onset is insidious – often unfortunately unrecognized or unobserved.Type 1 diabetes often develops within a few days and weeks. Excessive urination, extreme thirst, increased fatigue and irritability can be the first signs of diabetes. Other metabolism-related signs that increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes include: abdominal obesity, elevated triglyceride levels (blood lipids), low HDL cholesterol levels – these are also known as metabolic syndrome.
One of the first signs of childhood diabetes is excessive urination with large quantities of urine. Children wake up suddenly at night due to the urge to urinate or have already wet the bed. The high urine loss is compensated for by strong thirst: a child with diabetes drinks several liters of fluid per day. Other signs of the two types of childhood diabetes include itching, excessive fatigue and irritability, increased susceptibility to infections, weight loss, and a decline in physical and mental performance.
Children with type 1 diabetes receive insulin several times a day to lower their blood glucose levels. Insulin can be injected either with a syringe or with a pen (device for injection) under the skin. Many patients also receive an insulin pump that continuously delivers insulin.
Type 2 diabetes, which usually develops as a result of obesity and lack of exercise, is much rarer in children. The pancreas still produces insulin, but it is less effective. Blood glucose levels also rise with type 2 diabetes. Balanced diet, physical activity and reduction of excess weight, can regulate type 2 diabetes. If the elevated blood glucose levels cannot be normalized, tablets (antidiabetics) are used.