There was a time when Type 2 diabetes, also called “late onset diabetes,” was considered to be your grandmother’s disease. But now pediatricians are warning that your 10-year-old may be at risk.
“I think one of our greatest challenges is the growing epidemic of diabetes that covers all parts of the lifespan,” says Kellie Rodriguez, director of education services at the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She is the mother of three young children and hopes to prevent her children from getting it.
Insulin that is produced in the pancreas regulates how blood sugar moves into the cells, where it is used for energy. Children have long been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes that occurs when the pancreas stops or slows its production of insulin. But the incidence of Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body doesn’t respond properly to insulin, is on the rise. (More than 90 percent of diabetes cases are Type 2, which can be controlled with diet, exercise and weight loss.)
According to the American Diabetics Association, about one in 400 children and adolescents have diabetes. And the ongoing SEARCH study that began in 2000 finds that Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in children over 10, especially for minority populations, including Hispanics.
“The crux of the problem is that we will have a generation of kids who will get the complications we associate with the elderly much earlier in life,” says Dr. Jose Perez-Rodriguez, a pediatric endocrinologist with Baptist Children’s Hospital. “This will be a substantial economic and medical burden.”
It can take 10 to 15 years of having uncontrolled high blood sugar levels to develop more severe complications. Therefore a child at 10 who is diagnosed with diabetes could be suffering complications in his 20s and 30s instead of in old age like his grandmother.
Imagine a four-inch pipe that has thick sugar syrup running through it. As time goes by, the “sugary goop” starts to accumulate in the walls of the pipe, explains Perez-Rodriguez. As it builds up, the opening of the pipe — or lumen — gets smaller and smaller.
After 30 years of sugar syrup running through that pipe, if you cut it crosswise you’ll discover it is clogged. In the body of a person with uncontrolled diabetes, that sugary syrup is blood and that pipe represents blood vessels.
“Your veins and arteries don’t like syrup running through them so they put a wall between the blood vessels and the lumen,” Perez-Rodriguez says. This cuts down the flow of nourishment to every part of the body.
Now think of the protein that is in every cell, every organ and every tissue of your body. When the sugary syrup comes in contact with it, the protein loses its flexibility.
“This also contributes to complications from diabetes,” says Perez-Rodriguez, adding that blood vessels should be flexible like cooked spaghetti. If they become rigid, they can’t do their work well.
The long-term complications of diabetes include nerve damage that can result in a loss of feeling in the hands and feet.
Then you might get a cut on your foot but don’t realize it because the nerves aren’t telling you there’s pain. Because the wound doesn’t get the blood it needs to heal or the proper care, an infection occurs. Without treatment, it can reach the bone and then there’s no solution but amputation.