Carbohydrates are sugars the body uses for its energy needs. Sugars can be simple, like glucose, or complex, like the sugars that make up pasta, bread and rice. Children can have several blood sugar problems. These include disorders of carbohydrate metabolism, in which the child’s body cannot properly process certain complex sugars; hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar; and hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar.
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Disorders of Carbohydrate Metabolism
There are several disorders of carbohydrate metabolism. According to the Merck Manual, children with glycogen storage diseases have difficulty changing glycogen, the storage form of unused glucose, back into simple sugars for energy use. These disorders can be fatal. Symptoms of glycogen storage diseases include low blood sugar, which can cause confusion, lethargy and seizures, and protrusion of the abdomen, as the liver becomes enlarged with the unused and unprocessed glycogen. Children with these disorders also can have growth retardation and frequent infections. Another disorder of carbohydrate metabolism is galactosemia, a condition in which newborn babies are born unable to process galactose into simpler sugars. The accumulation of galactose causes jaundice, lose of appetite, diarrhea and frequent serious bacterial infections.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, results when the quantity of glucose in the blood falls to levels that impair the functioning of the body’s tissues. According to the Children’s Hospital Boston, the causes of hypoglycemia in children include a delayed or missed meal, especially in children with diabetes who take sugar-lowering drugs; hyperinsulinism, in which the child’s pancreas secretes too much insulin, lowering blood sugar; and certain congenital conditions. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include jitteriness, shakiness, dizziness and irritability. Other symptoms include headache, hunger, paleness and changes in behavior. Some children with low blood sugar exhibit difficulty concentrating, have clumsy movements and can lose consciousness or have a seizure.
The most common cause of hyperglycemia in children is diabetes. Diabetes results from the body’s inability to produce or properly utilize insulin, the main hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, glucose then accumulates in the bloodstream and overwhelms the kidney’s capacity to retain it. The increase in glucose in the kidney draws more fluid into the urine, resulting in one of the symptoms of diabetes, increased urination, which then causes increased thirst. Because the body cannot use glucose as energy, children with diabetes exhibit increased hunger but are unable to gain weight. Other symptoms include fatigue; blurry vision; dehydration, with dry lips and mouth; increased heart rate; and dry skin.