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A closer look at Diabetes

More...American Diabetes Association

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disorder that impairs the body's ability to turn sugar into energy.

One form of the disease is called "juvenile diabetes" because it mainly occurs in young people, often starting in childhood. Other names for it include "diabetes mellitus type I" and "insulin-dependent diabetes." There is a type II diabetes that usually affects people over the age of 40.

The pancreas of a child with diabetes mellitus type I does not produce enough insulin for the absorption of glucose (sugar) by cells which need it for energy and by the liver which stores it. Without energy from glucose, the body gets energy from fat and this produces a toxic substance called ketones.

Diabetes is not contagious. There is no cure. Children with diabetes mellitus type I need daily injections of insulin, the hormone that allows conversion of sugar into energy.

A main symptom of uncontrolled diabetes is frequent urination. This excess loss of fluids results in being unusually thirsty. Also, due to the lack of sugar conversion to energy, the body becomes tired and weak. As the body burns its own fat for energy, some children lose weight. Other symptoms may include tingling in the hands and feet, vision problems, and reduced resistance to infections.

Although there is no cure, diabetes can be controlled through daily injections of insulin, together with a balanced diet of food and exercise. Food raises the sugar (glucose) level in the body, while exercise lowers it.

Control of diabetes is a balancing act of these three components: Insulin, food, exercise. A good balance and a child can lead a normal life. Without that balance, a child can suffer one of two opposite reactions.

One is the shock of low blood sugar, called "hypoglycemia." A child with low blood sugar may be confused, cranky, clumsy, dizzy, hungry, trembling, and perspiring.

The other reaction is high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), where symptoms build gradually, including extreme thirst, drowsiness, hot and dry skin, no appetite, blood test showing high sugar, labored breathing, and eventual unconsciousness. This ultimate symptom is known as a diabetic coma.

Regular meals, exercise, and insulin will usually keep the child's blood sugar under control. Children can eat the same healthy foods as their playmates. They should stay away from concentrated sweets. They should avoid exercise right before meal time. And they should consider eating more frequently during the day or have snacks at midmorning and mid-afternoon. If a child is going to burn up a lot of sugar through exercise, a snack before the activity is a good idea.

As children grow old enough, they may take over the task of monitoring their blood sugar level and giving themselves injections of insulin. The adult should oversee this responsibility, however, and participate occasionally to keep up the skill of measuring the blood sugar and giving an injection.

Research continues into the causes of diabetes and the possible ways to intervene in its development. These include programs to explore the body's immune system and how to alter its response, genetics, transplantation, how insulin works, and prevention and reversal of diabetic complications.

If you are a Texas resident and are not approved as a foster or adoptive family, please fill out our Adoption and Foster Care Interest form in the Get Started section.

If you have questions or want to inquire about a specific child or sibling group, contact the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange (TARE) or call 1-800-233-3405.

                                                                                                                                                                   
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