Updated 05 February 2015

Type 1 diabetes in children

A child has type 1 diabetes when the pancreas no longer produces the necessary insulin and it has to be administered externally.


Type 1 diabetes in children can be described as a condition where the child’s pancreas no longer produces the Insulin the child needs to stay alive.

This means the child’s insulin needs must be met through the administration of external insulin. The diagnosis of type 1 diabetes during childhood is often an overwhelming and devastating experience, often for the child and their caregivers.

The child and/or their caregivers must learn to cope with injections, monitoring blood sugar levels and making dietary and lifestyle changes.

Signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes

If a child experiences any of the following symptoms, parents should consult a doctor or paediatrician:  

• Insatiable thirst and frequent urination
• Extreme hunger
• Weight loss
• Fatigue
• Irritability
• Blurred vision
• Fungal and Staphylococcal infections

Screening tests used to diagnose diabetes:

Different blood tests are available to diagnose and monitor diabetes. A fasting blood sugar test is done after an overnight fast. If the blood sugar is >7 mmol/L, a diagnosis of diabetes can be made.

Another valuable test to help diagnose and monitor diabetes is a Glycated Haemoglobin (HbA1C). The HbA1C gives doctors an indication of the average blood sugar level of that patient over the preceding 2 to 3 month period. If this is above 6.5% and other causes of an elevated HbA1C are excluded, a diagnosis of diabetes can be made.

Tests that should routinely be done on children suffering from diabetes

Because diabetes can affect many organs in the body, it is very important to detect any problems or indications of damage as early as possible. Your doctor will refer the child at the correct intervals for the following tests:

• Cholesterol
• Liver function
• Thyroid
• Kidney function
• Blood pressure
• Growth
• Regular eye tests

Types of insulin

Many types of insulin are available, and differ according to the onset and duration of their action. The physician will ensure that the correct type, combination and dosage are prescribed.

Possible long-term complications of type 1 diabetes are:

• Heart and blood vessel disease
• Nerve damage (Neuropathy)
• Kidney damage
• Eye damage
• Recurring skin infections

Recurring skin infections

Treatment of diabetes type 1 involves a lifelong commitment to strict regulation of blood sugar. Insulin is a medication which should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle in order to achieve this. Because of this, a qualified dietician is invaluable in helping parents determine the nutritional requirements of diabetic children.

With the help of a committed caregiver and experienced professionals, a child with diabetes type 1 can lead a happy and fulfilling life despite this condition.