Young Diabetics... Young Champions


The mother called her 11-year-old son from among his soccer peers before the match started, pointing to her arm. He took out a small mobile-like device from his bag and passed it lightly over a circular white chip on his arm. He then pointed to his mother to reassure her, telling her in a low voice: 146; do not worry, mom.

The mother heaved a sigh of relief, and thanked God for the modern technologies that have greatly contributed to treating her diabetic child, including that "sensor", which spared her little boy the pricks of the traditional device to measure the level of glucose in the blood.

The Beginning... The Symptoms

She remembered that day six years ago, when the doctor told her that her little boy is diabetic. She was suspicious about the sudden symptoms that appeared on her son; he was drinking a lot of water, and went to the bathroom frequently, day and night. Even though he was eating a lot of food, especially those high in sugar, he was losing a lot of weight. Moreover, he was gasping without exerting any effort. These symptoms lasted about 10 days; however, they were enough to raise the level of acetone in his blood, or the so-called acidity of blood. Thank God the mother was able to take him to the hospital before a ketogenic coma occurred.

The difference between diabetes type 1 and 2.

Treating the diabetic child was not the same as treating his diabetic grandfather. For example, the latter had diabetes at the age of forty, and the doctor prescribed him tablets to regulate blood glucose, along with a diet and a list of foods to avoid; however, the child had no treatment except insulin. Even though both are suffering from diabetes, the causes and the nature of the disease are different in the two cases.

In type 1 diabetes, the disease is autoimmune; the body's immune system attacks beta cells in the pancreas, which is responsible for the production of insulin. Till this moment, the reason behind this imbalance, which leads the body to attack itself, is undiscovered. On the other hand, type 2 diabetes is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin to burn glucose in the blood. The cause of type 2 diabetes is often hereditary, or due to obesity, or an unhealthy diet.

The treatment... Insulin

So far, there is no treatment for type 1 diabetes except insulin, and there are several types of insulin; the most important of which are:

  1. Fast-acting insulin: it is the type of insulin that works 2 and half minutes to 20 minutes after being injected. It is also one of the types that the diabetic child depends on before meals, which means that it is used 3 times a day, to cover an average of 3 hours. Moreover, this type is used to correct high levels of glucose in blood.
  2. Short-acting insulin: this type is activated 30 minutes after injection, and it is another type of insulin used before meals, but its effect lasts for a longer time, up to 6 hours. It is preferable to be used during the school day.
  3. Long-acting insulin: it is the type that lasts for long hours, which can reach up to an average of 24 hours, and there are types that may last up to almost 40 hours. Patients suffering from type 1 diabetes need the long-acting insulin to burn glucose excreted by the liver throughout the day, during the period when the patient is not eating. It is taken once a day at a specific time, or or once every two days, according to the extent of its effect.

Thus, the diabetic child depends on two types of insulin a day, with an average of 4 injections per day. Insulin is life for the young diabetic champions.

Myths about Diabetes

The mother did not forget the sayings and opinions that surrounded her when people knew about her son's disease. Some people claimed it is a temporary disease that disappears when the child grows up, and others suggested to use herbs instead of insulin to regulate blood glucose levels. Some people thought that a diabetic child should never eat sugars, or that eating rice, pasta, and salted crackers would not harm him, while some surprised her with their belief that the diabetic child will be delayed at school and will have a weak body structure. However, the mother did not surrender to these myths, but rather searched and consulted doctors and specialists; she learnt that:

  1. Diabetes is a chronic disease from which the patient cannot be cured.
  2. The use of insulin is indispensable.
  3. The patient can eat sweets with certain amounts, and all carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels.
  4. A diabetic child is not different from others in terms of IQ, concentration, academic progress, or mental and sensory skills.
  5. ِA diabetic child will not suffer from a weak physical structure unless he does not exercise or follow a healthy diet.

Diet and Sports... The other side of treatment

We cannot depend on Insulin as the only treatment for a diabetic child; a healthy diet is the key to a healthy life away from the complications of diabetes. Fast or short acting insulin doses are determined according to the amount of carbohydrates in the food the child eats, so it is true that there are fixed doses for food. For example, a meal containing 30 grams of carbohydrates consumes more units than those containing 10 grams only.

However, consider choosing food with low glycemic index; that is, foods that do not raise blood sugar quickly. For example, consuming a cup of juice containing 15 units of carbohydrates raises blood sugar faster than a plate of cooked vegetables and brown rice containing the same amount of carbohydrates. Therefore, the diet of a diabetic child should contain foods with a low glycemic index, such as whole grains, vegetables, lean meats, and fish. This does not mean that sweets are not allowed completely, but it is preferable to consume sweets with no carbohydrates and low in fat.

The powerful and effective role of sports in the life of anyone, especially a diabetic child, cannot be overlooked. Exercise helps reduce the body's resistance to insulin, and protects the child from the potential complications of diabetes. Sports also provide the child with physical fitness and activity which protects him from obesity—the greatest enemy of a diabetic patient.

Monitoring Blood Glucose Levels

A diabetic child cannot lead a healthy life without constant monitoring of blood glucose levels. Based on the measurement, the dose of insulin to be injected before meals is determined. Also, regular follow-ups protect him from the sudden rise or drop of blood glucose levels, which may lead to a hyperglycaemic coma—a ketogenic coma—or a hypoglycaemic coma, which is more dangerous because of its rapidity and dangerous complications.

In the past decades, the follow-up method was the traditional device of blood glucose measurement, which depends on pricking a finger and placing a drop of blood on a disposable tape. This method has many drawbacks; most notably that you have to monitor the measurement at least 10 times a day to check if the child's condition is stable, which makes the child feel uncomfortable and affects the nerves of his fingertips in the future.

A few years ago, an invention appeared that is a lifeline for diabetic patients in general, and for diabetic children in particular: the "sensor". The sensor is a chip that is attached to the arm and activated by the reader or an application on the mobile phone, which has a feature of "Near Field Communication" known as NFC. When you pass the reader or the mobile close to the chip, it gives you the readings of the blood glucose level.

Not only that, it also gives you an indication whether the glucose level is rising or lowering, with an average of daily readings, a daily graph, and a monthly statistic that helps you monitor better. The sensor is replaced every two weeks, and gives an infinite number of readings. Moreover, you can fix a small alert device called "Miao Miao" that can be attached to the sensor chip and sounds an alarm when the blood glucose level is high or low.


The shouts of her child's team celebrating their victory brought the mother back to the present; she smiled silently and waved to her little one seeing him a real hero.



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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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