Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM)—also known as type 1 diabetes—is an autoimmune disorder in which the body destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is responsible for moving glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the cells, where it’s used as energy. Without adequate insulin, glucose levels in the blood can build to dangerous levels and cause a wide range of health problems.
IDDM is distinguished from type II diabetes, which is typically caused by lifestyle factors such as a diet high in sugar or obesity and is more common among adults. IDDM accounts for 5-10 percent of all cases of diabetes in the US and can be diagnosed at any age, including during a baby’s first year.
While there is no known cause for IDDM, genetics and family history play a factor in a child’s risk for developing the condition. About 30 percent of children with type 1 diabetes have a close relative with the disease. Other factors may include exposure to a virus, such as Epstein-Barr, coxsackie, mumps, or cytomegalovirus.
Some of the signs and symptoms to look for include:
- Increased thirst and frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Frequent yeast infection (Girls with type 1 diabetes may have a genital yeast infection, and babies can develop diaper rash caused by yeast)
If you suspect your child might have IDDM, call your pediatrician immediately. The doctor will check a urine sample to see if there is any glucose (sugar) in the urine. In healthy people, all glucose is filtered out of the kidneys back into the blood stream. People with diabetes have so much glucose (sugar) in their blood that the kidneys get overwhelmed and it spills into the urine. The physician may also do a finger stick to measure the amount of sugar in the blood at that moment. There are other blood tests—such as glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test and a fasting blood sugar test—that can be performed if the initial blood test is inconclusive or your doctor believes more testing is needed.
Treatment for IDDM needs to be taken seriously and is a lifelong commitment. The treatment involves frequent blood sugar monitoring, insulin, healthy eating, and regular exercise. As your child gets older, their treatment plan will likely be adjusted. Growth spurts can affect your child’s insulin needs, while colds and other illnesses can also have an impact on your child’s blood sugar levels and diabetes management.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019
- Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is an autoimmune disorder where the body destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
- About 30 percent of children with type 1 diabetes have a close relative with the disease.
- Symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, irritability, blurred vision, and frequent yeast infections.
- Treatment is a lifelong commitment that includes blood sugar monitoring, insulin, healthy eating, and regular exercise.
- Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus is a life-long, incurable disease. Without daily medication and careful monitoring, it can be fatal.