COVID-19 may raise the risk of Type-1 diabetes in children - Cape Cod Healthcare

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Published on February 22, 2022

COVID-19 may raise the risk of Type-1 diabetes in children

Children Diabetes COVID

Children who have recovered from COVID-19 may be at a greater risk for developing Type-1 or Type-2 diabetes, according to a recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report relied on two separate databases that came up with quite different risk assessments. The first data set indicated that children under the age of 18 who had recovered from COVID-19 had a 166 percent higher risk of developing diabetes after their infection. The second data set recorded a 31 percent higher risk.

Despite the different risk calculators, the CDC warned pediatricians and parents to be on the lookout for symptoms of diabetes because even a 31 percent higher risk could be significant. 

So far, pediatrician Lori Zito, MD, at Bass River Pediatric Associates hasn’t seen any new cases of diabetes in her patients, but she said it is plausible that it could happen.

“We know that a viral illness is a likely trigger for diabetes, so COVID is a viral illness that could trigger it,” she said. “There’s really not much you can do to prevent it. All you can do is watch for the symptoms.”

The symptoms of diabetes parents should watch for include:

  • Excessive thirst and drinking a lot more water than usual.
  • Excessive urination.
  • A child who is fully potty trained suddenly wetting the bed, especially if they are older.

It’s not unusual for children to drink a lot or to have frequent daytime urination, Dr. Zito said. The difference is the volume of urine. Most children who urinate frequently will just urinate a small amount. With diabetes the volume of urine is much greater.

“A lot of kids drink a lot out of habit and if they drink a lot, they pee a lot, but with diabetes it’s the other way around,” Dr. Zito said. “They actually pee a lot because there is sugar in their urine and their kidneys are bringing more water from their body into their urine and it’s going out, and that, then, triggers increased thirst.”

The onset of Type-1 diabetes happens quickly. If parents don’t catch it soon enough, the child will eventually start throwing up. They get extremely dehydrated and can start breathing rapidly if they don’t get proper medical care. Normal blood sugar levels in children are 80 to 120. With Type-1 diabetes, they can shoot up to a frightening 500.

With Type-1 diabetes, your body attacks the cells in your pancreas so they can no longer produce insulin. Type-2 diabetes is more of an insulin resistance issue. Your body is unable to make enough insulin or the insulin you do make doesn’t work properly. Type-2 diabetes progresses more slowly, Dr. Zito said, but it still has the symptoms of excessive thirst and frequent urination. Blood sugars don’t go up as high with Type-2. You might be looking at a blood sugar of 200 to 250, which is still much too high.

“If kids are drinking a lot and peeing a lot, it is definitely worth bringing them in because all they have to do is pee in a cup and we can test for glucose,” she said. “If there’s no sugar in there then they don’t have diabetes. It’s really one of our easier diagnoses, but it’s a sad diagnosis.”

Luckily, the medicine and equipment to treat diabetes gets better all the time. Now they have insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors and Dr. Zito wouldn’t be surprised if those things can “talk” to each other in the future to act as a substitute pancreas. It won’t ever be as good as having your own pancreas, but it does make living with the disease easier.

Even though Dr. Zito was not overly alarmed by the CDC report, she did agree with one of the conclusions of the researchers at the CDC.

“It highlights the importance of COVID-19 prevention strategies including vaccination for all eligible persons in that age group,” she said.