It can be challenging for parents to recognize the signs of diabetes in toddlers. Learn more about type 1 diabetes tests and what symptoms to look for.
You're probably used to your toddler's dramatic mood shifts and changes in energy. Often, these changes are just toddlers being toddlers. But if irritability and fatigue are accompanied by other symptoms, it can be a possible sign of childhood diabetes.
Normal Blood Sugar Levels in Toddlers
Blood sugar, or glucose, is the body's main form of energy. The body mainly gets glucose by metabolizing the carbohydrates in food. But people with diabetes have blood sugar levels that are too high, a condition known as hyperglycemia. This can have both short- and long-term health consequences.
There are several different blood tests that measure blood sugar levels and check for diabetes. Two of them — a random blood sugar test and a hemoglobin A1C test — can be performed during your regular visit to the pediatrician. A random blood sugar test measures your toddler's blood sugar at that moment, while an A1C test measures his or her average blood sugar level over the last three months.
- Before breakfast (fasting blood sugar): 70 to 120 mg/dL
- One to two hours after meals: Less than 140 mg/dL
- Before meals and at bedtime: 70 to 120 mg/dL
A normal A1C level in children is 6.5, according to the Mayo Clinic 23. If your child's blood sugar levels are elevated, your pediatrician might prescribe other blood or urine tests to get a diagnosis.
When Should Your Toddler Get Tested for Diabetes?
Recognizing the symptoms of diabetes in toddlers can be challenging, because they can't always articulate their symptoms to you. There are two main forms of diabetes in children — type 1 and type 2 23. In order to recognize the symptoms, it's helpful to first understand a bit more about how the body normally manages blood sugar, and how the two different types of diabetes affect this system.
After the body metabolizes carbs into glucose, insulin — a hormone produced by the pancreas — helps move the glucose out of the blood and into the cells, which use it for energy. While insulin is removing glucose from the blood, it is also lowering blood sugar levels.
People with type 1 diabetes are said to be insulin deficient, meaning that their pancreases don't make enough insulin. Without enough insulin, glucose builds up in the blood, causing hyperglycemia. This type of diabetes is heritable, meaning that it is partially caused by genetics, but there are other things that influence its development. "Type 1 can develop at any age, but it's more typical in children," says Heidi Quinn, RDN, a certified diabetes educator at Harvard's Joslin Diabetes Center 234.
Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children and tweens aged 4 to 6 and 10 to 14, according to Stanford Children's Health 23. Therefore, while diabetes can occur in toddlers, it is more common in slightly older children 2.
In the case of type 2 diabetes, the body makes enough insulin, but the cells don't respond properly to its effects — a condition known as insulin resistance. This results in high blood sugar, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center 4.
Type 2 diabetes is partially genetic, but it's not as heritable as type 1 4. Though the exact causes are currently unknown, type 2 has been connected to environmental factors such as poor diet and obesity. "Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults," says Quinn, "but we're seeing it more in younger ages now, due to the obesity epidemic. 4"
- Frequent urination (especially within a short time frame)
- Unusual/excessive thirst
- Extreme hunger accompanied by weight loss
- Irritability and mood changes
- Eye rubbing (untreated diabetes can cause blurry vision)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fruity-smelling breath
- Rapid breathing
Many of these symptoms — such as mood changes and fatigue — are common in young children. But if these symptoms occur with other signs of diabetes, see your toddler's doctor. If left untreated, diabetes (particularly type 1) can become life-threatening.
As Quinn says, type 2 diabetes develops more slowly, meaning that it can be more easily diagnosed at your child's regular doctor appointment. Also, it's important to note that overweight children are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes than kids who have a normal weight 23.
Managing Your Toddler's Diabetes
Read more: Why Too High or Too Low Blood Sugar Could Be Dangerous People with type 1 diabetes are said to be insulin deficient, meaning that their pancreases don't make enough insulin. Here's what you should look out for, according to Stanford Children's Health 3: * Frequent urination (especially within a short time frame) Unusual/excessive thirst Extreme hunger accompanied by weight loss Irritability and mood changes Fatigue Eye rubbing (untreated diabetes can cause blurry vision) Nausea and vomiting Fruity-smelling breath Rapid breathing Many of these symptoms — such as mood changes and fatigue — are common in young children. Regardless of whether your child has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, diet is an important part of blood sugar control 4.
- Yale School of Medicine: "Blood Sugar"
- Mayo Clinic: "Type 1 Diabetes in Children"
- Stanford Children's Health: "Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus in Children"
- Joslin Diabetes Center: "What Is Type 2 Diabetes?"
- American Diabetes Association: "Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)"
- KidsHealth: "Long-Term Complications of Diabetes"