Children With Type 1 Diabetes Have Increased Risk of Psychiatric Disorders

A new Swedish study published in Diabetes Care has found a worrying link between children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and the later development of psychiatric disorders and attempted suicide.

Sad ChildAccording to the findings, kids with type 1 diabetes were significantly more likely to develop psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when compred to their healthy siblings.

“We suspected that we would find higher risk of common psychiatric disorders such as depression or anxiety, as observed among adults with diabetes,” said lead author Agnieszka Butwicka of the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

“What was surprising was that risk was high for many different psychiatric disorders,” which may mean that applying the results of adult studies to kids is too simplistic, she told Reuters Health by email.

Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed at young ages, and the condition required daily insulin injections to regulate blood sugar. Past studies have shown this can be very stressful for children, especially in the time immediately following a diagnosis.

The Swedish study used a national register to compare more than 17,000 children with diabetes born in Sweden between 1973 and 2009 with more than 1,000,000 similar but healthy children and healthy siblings of the diabetic group. The researchers also looked at medical records for history of mental health disorders or behavioral problems.

The findings showed approximately 8 percent of children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes were also diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. The children with diabetes were twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness by the age of 18 as their healthy counterparts, and 1.7 times more likely to attempt suicide.

Interestingly, the heightened risk for psychiatric disorders peaked with children born between 1973 and 1986 and then declined. This leads the researchers to believe progress in diabetes management which provide more flexible lifestyles and more effective metabolic control may decrease the mental burden of the condition on children.

The researchers expected to see an increase in psychiatric disorders among siblings of children with type 1 diabetes, however the results only found a slight increase and no significant increase in a specific disorder. This indicates the increased risk of mental illness among children with diabetes may be born out of the psychological effects of coping with the condition rather than a genetic risk factor.

“I think our results could be replicable in other countries with similar access to pediatric diabetes and mental health care with the possibility of access to those data,” Butwicka said.

The findings line up with previous studies showing children with type 1 diabetes were nearly twice as likely to experience clinical depression compared to the general population. It underscores the need for psychiatric screening among children with the condition. Many of the children won’t need treatment, but connecting those that do with professional assistance at an early age can greatly improve the child’s outcome.

“Having diabetes does not immediately mean that one has a psychiatric disorder and requires mental health treatment,” Butwicka said. “Amazingly, most children and their parents actually do well.”

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