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September 12, 1999

Hypoglycemia

Question from Georgia, USA:

I have a 19 month old son diabetic since birth due to partial pancreatic agenesis. I recently read that repeated hypoglycemia in infants and toddlers has been associated with learning disabilities later in life. Can you provide any further information? How do they define hypoglycemia? What type of disabilities? What percentage of children?

Answer:

There is a definite relationship between having diabetes before the age of five and an increased risk for learning disabilities. This increased risk is clear in children who have frequent low blood sugars (chronic, mild hypoglycemia) and/or a number of severe reactions (lack of responsiveness, seizures, etc). Some recent research suggests that this increased risk may also be seen in young children who run chronically high blood sugars as well. Children diagnosed with diabetes before age 5 tend to have more difficulties in visual-spatial and visual-motor processing than children diagnosed at an older age. They have also been found to have more difficulties in reading and spelling tasks.

A low blood sugar is frequently defined as anything below 60 mg/dl. To protect young children from lows, most diabetes teams will set a higher target range for children under five years of age. For example, 100-200 until age 6, and then 80-180 from ages 6-11.

JWB
Additional comments from The Editor:

See also Conventional Versus Intensive Diabetes Therapy in Children with Type 1 Diabetes.

JSH