Signs and Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes Onset in an Infant or Child

The young child who is urinating frequently, drinking large quantities, losing weight, and becoming more and more tired and ill is the classic picture of a child with new-onset type 1 diabetes. If a child who is potty-trained and dry at night starts having accidents and wetting the bed again, diabetes might be the culprit. 

Although it is easy to make the diagnosis of diabetes in a child by checking a blood glucose at the doctor’s office or emergency room, the tricky part is recognizing the symptoms and knowing to take the child to get checked. Raising the awareness that young children, including infants, can get type 1 diabetes can help parents know when to check for type 1 diabetes.

Sometimes children can be in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) when they are diagnosed with diabetes. When there is a lack of insulin in the body, the body can build up high levels of an acid called ketones. DKA is a medical emergency that usually requires hospitalization and immediate care with insulin and IV fluids. After diagnosis and early in treatment, some children may go through a phase where they seem to be making enough insulin again. This is commonly called the “honeymoon phase”. It may seem like diabetes has been cured, but over time they will require appropriate doses of insulin to keep their blood glucose levels in the normal range.

Personal Stories from The Type 1 Diabetes Self-Care Manual by Jamie Wood, MD and Anne Peters, MD: 

A Math Problem

Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 13 was a whirlwind: I remember the symptoms of being tired and thirsty all the time, of going to the doctor and giving a urine sample, of waking up in the ER with two IVs in me, but I can’t remember anyone telling me, “You have type 1 diabetes.” I don’t think it happened. And no one ever explained what having type 1 diabetes was: I was told I needed to test my blood sugar and inject insulin before I knew what either of those meant.

Because of this, type 1 diabetes didn’t really feel like it was something I had; it was more like a math problem I needed to solve a few times every day than a physical thing happening to my body. To this day, I still find it weird to say, “I have diabetes,” since I don’t feel like I have it. Sure, I feel the symptoms when my blood sugar is out of range, but I don’t feel like anything has changed. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned about having type 1 diabetes: Yes, you no longer produce insulin, but you haven’t changed. You are still you. You’ll have your highs and lows (physical and mental), but that’s no different than anyone else with or without type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes does not define you.

—Craig Stubing, 29, is a documentary filmmaker and creator of the Beta Cell podcast.

Ten French Fries

The first doctor was wrong: I didn’t have Mono, a disease that would last a few weeks. I had type 1 diabetes, a disease that would last my lifetime. 

The doctor tried to explain to me how things would work, now that I was a type 1 diabetic, officially. She said, to an 80-pound 15-year-old, “Everything will pretty much be the same. Like, you can still eat french fries. You just have to count how many you eat, and you can’t eat more than 10 fries, and you have to take medicine via syringe before you eat them.” No, I thought. That’s not the same. 

I remember the only thing that actually made me feel better. My mom said, “It’s like taking medicine three times a day. You know how Mommy takes thyroid medicine every day.” Very different circumstances, but she tried, and that made me feel better. 

—Amirah Meghani, 35, is an attorney and mother of two.

  • Last Reviewed: August 28, 2018
  • Last Edited: August 29, 2018