Pediatric Diabetes is on the Rise; Parents Urged to Look Out for Warning Signs

Child holding parent's hand.

Normally we would see a few children each year with severe new onset Type 1 diabetes, and we would take pause. These cases have significantly increased during the pandemic and, unfortunately, it’s no longer a surprise.

Frances Lim-Liberty, MD, Pediatric Endocrinology

Pediatric diabetes, also known as Type 1, cases have noticeably become more frequent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Normally we would see a few children each year with severe new onset Type 1 diabetes, and we would take pause,” says Frances Lim-Liberty, MD, Pediatric Endocrinology, Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD). “These cases have significantly increased during the pandemic and, unfortunately, it’s no longer a surprise.”

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, and while still unclear, it’s possibly triggered by a viral infection. More cases of Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed during the fall and winter seasons, when people get sick with colds and the flu. While COVID-19 is also a virus most of the children being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes are not COVID-19-positive. So, what’s causing the recent increase in cases?

“Parents are keeping their kids away from the hospital and health care appointments because they don’t want the added exposure to COVID-19,” shared Lim-Liberty. “When parents notice symptoms they treat them supportively and wait for them to resolve. When they don’t, they seek medical care but the new onset diabetes cases are more severe when we see them.”

Lim-Liberty stresses the importance of proactively recognizing the most common symptoms of Type 1 diabetes:

  • Increase in thirst and drinking more.
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom during the night and/or having bedwetting accidents.
  • Increased hunger with weight loss (despite eating more).
  • Fatigue and blurry vision.
  • Yeast infections, diaper rashes and/or thrush.

Emergency care is required if children have rapid breathing, fruity smelling breath, abdominal pain, vomiting and/or confusion. However, most cases of Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed before symptoms become this serious. 

Children are diagnosed through clinical presentation and checking for blood sugar levels or glucose in urine. Providers then determine whether the child requires hospitalization. Families receive teaching to manage insulin and diet requirements when the child goes home.

“It’s important for every kid to eat in a healthy way, but kids with Type 1 diabetes still get to enjoy a cupcake at a birthday party,” says Lim-Liberty. “We ask a lot from them in managing their diabetes, and we really want to make their lives as normal as possible.”

About Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH), New Hampshire’s only academic health system and the state’s largest private employer, serves a population of 1.9 million across northern New England. D-HH provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH. DHMC was named again in 2020 as the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in 9 clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health includes the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, one of only 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation; Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the state’s only children’s hospital; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene, and New London, NH, and Windsor, VT, and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and 24 Dartmouth-Hitchcock clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. The D-HH system trains nearly 400 residents and fellows annually, and performs world-class research, in partnership with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT.

About CHaD

As New Hampshire's only full service, comprehensive children's hospital, the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth‐Hitchcock (CHaD) is committed to providing outstanding compassionate care for children and their families. Their physician expertise provides primary, specialty, and tertiary care to the children of New Hampshire, Vermont, and beyond. CHaD offers inpatient (hospital care) and outpatient (same day care) services at Dartmouth‐Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH. Outpatient and same day surgery services are available at Dartmouth‐Hitchcock Manchester, as well as outpatient pediatric specialties at Wentworth‐Douglass Hospital, Dover and in Exeter. Primary care is available at Dartmouth‐Hitchcock facilities in Bedford, Concord, Keene, Lebanon, Manchester, and Nashua, NH, and Bennington, VT. For more information about CHaD, please visit www.chadkids.org or contact us at (603) 650‐KIDS or chad.community.relations@hitchcock.org.