Over 70,000 children under the age of 15 years in India are diagnosed with type-1 diabetes every year. In my years of clinical practice, I have found that many of the parents of these young patients have misconceptions about this condition before and at the time of diagnosis. I firmly believe that a better understanding of type-1 diabetes empowers parents to better manage the health of their child and to help them live fulfilling lives. With World Diabetes Day this week, let us pledge to build our awareness.
Here are some of the most prevalent myths and misconceptions about type-1 diabetes that I would like to clarify:
Myth 1: You get type-1 diabetes from eating too much sugar
Fact: Children do not develop type-1 diabetes from eating too much sugar. Type-1 diabetes is often inherited. The illness can also be caused by the auto-destruction of insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas after viral illnesses (e.g. mumps, rotavirus infections, congenital rubella syndrome). In type-1 diabetes, the child's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the pancreatic cells that produce a hormone called insulin, because of which, the body makes little or no insulin. Without insulin, cells are unable to produce the energy they need for their regular functions.
Myth 2: Kids with type-1 diabetes can't eat sweets, but lots of fruit is fine
Fact: Children with type-1 diabetes should avoid sweets and chocolates as much as possible, but they can eat them as an occasional treat. Fruits are an important component of a healthy diet and so need to be eaten regularly. However, how much fruit they eat is also important. A small piece of fruit (110 grams — for example half a banana; half cup of mango; one-third cup of chikoo) contains about 15 grams of carbohydrate. This can be added to the child's meal although the total carbohydrate content of a meal should be about 45–60 grams, which could vary depending on the child's age.
Myth 3: Low blood sugar is never a problem in type-1 diabetes
Fact: No, low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) is a problem in type-1 diabetes and can have serious consequences, more so for young children. It's important for caregivers to know the reasons that lead to low blood sugar (less than 70 mg/dL) — these include skipping meals, not eating after taking insulin, taking too much insulin or taking it at the wrong time, exercising or playing too much. Children should be made aware of the symptoms of low blood sugar, such as weakness, sweating, nervousness, shaking, and should always keep hard candy or sugar at hand in case of emergencies.
Myth 4: You can cure type-1 diabetes by taking insulin regularly
Fact: Type-1 diabetes cannot be cured. Insulin helps to control blood sugar levels and is key to lifelong management of type-1 diabetes, along with regular blood sugar monitoring. It is important for parents to teach and help their children take their insulin (through a pen, syringe or pump) and educate teachers and caregivers about it too, especially when children are at school or away from home. With proper treatment and care, they can have a normal childhood and a full adult life.
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