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Mom Worried About Diabetes

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: I am concerned that my six-year-old son may have diabetes. He is always thirsty and will drink two to three glasses of water in an hour. He gets hyper almost instantly after consuming anything high in sugar, and occasionally complains of a stomachache after having even a small amount of sugar. I have cut back on the amount of sugar he consumes because of this. Diabetes does run in our family. Should I have him tested or am I overreacting?

A: Diabetes is a metabolic problem that results from not enough insulin in the body and/or the insulin that is in the body does not function as well as would normally be expected. This leads to elevated levels of sugar in the blood, which can acutely cause life-threatening problems and then long term can cause damage to different organs in the body like the eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

Diabetes is grouped into two types — Type 1 used to be called insulin-dependent and juvenile-onset while Type 2 was referred to as non-insulin-dependent and adult-onset. Most cases in children are classified as Type 1. It is felt to develop from the body's immune system making antibodies (things in the blood that generally help to fight infection) which then damage the cells in the pancreas which normally make insulin. This happens at different rates in different individuals, so the disease can present at various ages. Type 1 equally affects boys and girls, but is more common in Caucasians.

Without enough insulin in the body, one can see the classic signs of diabetes — polyuria (peeing a lot), polydipsia (drinking a lot), and polyphagia (eating a lot). Sometimes kids can also have some weight loss. I understand totally why you are thinking that his symptoms could be associated with diabetes, but let's not label him until a diagnosis is made. With a family history of diabetes, you are more familiar with the disease than others. There are also several risk factors and immune-related markers that some specialists may be able to use to predict diabetes, particularly in first-degree relatives of patients with diabetes.

In summary, I do not think you are overreacting. It would be very appropriate to discuss this with your pediatrician and to have your son examined.

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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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