Neonatal Diabetes: Can Diabetes Happen in the Newborn?

“Can diabetes happen in a newborn?” Jane quizzed the doctor. She had heard from her friend about a baby born with diabetes at the local hospital, and she could not just believe it”

What is neonatal diabetes?

Neonatal diabetes is a rare form of diabetes seen in infants under 6 months. It is typically due to genetic defects in insulin production that predispose the affected newborn to poor glucose (blood sugar) control. 

There are two main types of neonatal diabetes, depending on the duration of the symptoms:  transient neonatal diabetes mellitus and permanent neonatal diabetes mellitus. 

Permanent neonatal diabetes is lifelong, while transient neonatal diabetes resolves, usually before the baby reaches its first year of life. In half of all cases of neonatal diabetes, the condition is transient, while it is permanent in the other half. 

What are the symptoms of neonatal diabetes?

Common symptoms of neonatal diabetes include:

  • Thirst and increased appetite
  • Frequent urination
  • Dehydration
  • Floppy muscles
  • Tremors, shakiness

Left untreated, neonatal diabetes may cause several complications, including:

  • Developmental delay
  • Low birth weight
  • Muscle weakness
  • Epilepsy and seizures 
  • Larger than normal tongue

What causes neonatal diabetes, and can it be prevented?

Neonatal diabetes is caused by abnormalities in a single gene that codes for insulin production. If this gene is abnormal, it may prevent insulin production in the newborn, causing impaired sugar control. Because it is a genetic problem, neonatal diabetes is not preventable. 

In most cases, it happens in children with no family history of the disorder.

How is neonatal diabetes treated?

Neonatal diabetes is caused by a genetic defect, so there is currently no cure for it; however, there are medications to reduce the severity of symptoms and the risk of complications. 

These include insulin and oral glucose-lowering medicines. 

Transient neonatal diabetes resolves on its own within a few weeks or months. 

Although neonatal diabetes is a rare form of diabetes, it poses a serious threat to the health and development of affected newborns. It is important to review your newborn’s symptoms with your doctor if you notice anything unusual. 

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