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Type 1 Diabetes: Children Living With the Disease


Topic Overview

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This topic covers type 1 diabetes in children. For information about type 1 diabetes in adults and about preventing complications from type 1 diabetes, see the topic Type 1 Diabetes.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes develops when the pancreasClick here to see an illustration. stops making insulin. Your body needs insulin to let sugar (glucose) move from the blood into the body's cells, where it can be used for energy or stored for later use.

Without insulin, the sugar cannot get into the cells to do its work. It stays in the blood instead. This can cause high blood sugar levels. A person has diabetes when the blood sugar is too high.

What will it be like for your child to live with type 1 diabetes?

Your child can live a long, healthy life by learning to manage his or her diabetes. It will become a big part of your and your child's life.

You play a major role in helping your child take charge of his or her diabetes care. Let your child do as much of the care as possible. At the same time, give your child the support and guidance he or she needs.

How can you manage diabetes?

The key to managing diabetes is to keep blood sugar levels in a target range. To do this, your child needs to take insulin, eat about the same amount of carbohydrate at each meal, and exercise. Part of your child's daily routine also includes checking his or her blood sugar levels at certain times, as advised by your doctor.

The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely he or she is to have problems, such as diseases of the eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys. For some reason, children seem protected from these problems during childhood. But if your child can control his or her blood sugar levels every day, it may help prevent problems later on.

What symptoms should you watch for?

Even when you are careful and do all the right things, your child can have problems with low or high blood sugar. Teach your child to look for signs of low and high blood sugar and to know what to do if this happens.

  • If your child has low blood sugar, he or she may sweat a lot and feel weak, shaky, or hungry. But your child's symptoms may be different. Low blood sugar happens quickly. A person can get low blood sugar within minutes after exercise or after taking insulin without eating enough.
  • If your child has high blood sugar, he or she may be very thirsty or hungry, have to urinate more often than usual, or have blurry vision. High blood sugar usually develops slowly over hours or days.

Young children can't tell if they have low blood sugar as well as adults can. Also, after your child has had diabetes for a long time, he or she may not notice low blood sugar symptoms anymore. This raises the chance that your child could have low blood sugar emergencies. If you are worried about your child's blood sugar, do a home blood sugar test. Don't rely on symptoms alone.

Both low and high blood sugar can cause problems and need to be treated. Your doctor will suggest how often your child's blood sugar should be checked.

How often does your child need to see the doctor?

See your child's doctor at least every 3 to 6 months to check how well the treatment is working. During these visits, the doctor will do some tests to see if your child's blood sugar is under control. Based on these results, the doctor may change your child's treatment plan.

When your child is 10 years old or starts puberty, he or she will start having exams and tests to look for any problems from diabetes.

How will your child's treatment change over time?

Your child's insulin dose and possibly the types of insulin may change over time. The way your child takes insulin (with shots or an insulin pump) also may change. This is especially true during the teen years when your child grows and changes a lot.

What and how much food your child needs will also change over the years. But it will always be important to eat about the same amount of carbohydrate at each meal. Carbohydrate is the nutrient that most affects blood sugar.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about a child living with type 1 diabetes:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with a child who has type 1 diabetes:

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