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Health Information For Parents
Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood.
Our bodies break down the foods we eat into glucose and other nutrients we need, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract. The glucose level in the blood rises after a meal and triggers the pancreas to make the hormone insulin and release it into the bloodstream. But in people with diabetes, the body either can’t make or can’t respond to insulin properly.
Insulin works like a key that opens the doors to cells and lets the glucose in. Without insulin, glucose can’t get into the cells (the doors are “locked” and there is no key) and so it stays in the bloodstream. As a result, the level of sugar in the blood remains higher than normal. High blood sugar levels are a problem because they can cause a number of health problems.
The two types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Both make blood sugar levels higher than normal but they do so in different ways.
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas loses its ability to make insulin because the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. No one knows exactly why this happens, but scientists think it has something to do with genes. But just getting the genes for diabetes isn’t usually enough. A person probably would then have to be exposed to something else — like a virus — to get type 1 diabetes.
In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still makes insulin but the body doesn’t respond to it normally. Glucose is less able to enter the cells and do its job of supplying energy (a problem called insulin resistance). This raises the blood sugar level, so the pancreas works hard to make even more insulin. Eventually, this strain can make the pancreas unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal.
Type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented, and there is no real way to predict who will get it. Nothing that either a parent or the child did caused the disease.
Once a person has type 1 diabetes, it does not go away and requires lifelong treatment. Kids and teens with type 1 diabetes depend on daily insulin injections or an insulin pump to control their blood glucose levels.
A person can have diabetes without knowing it because the symptoms aren’t always obvious and they can take a long time to develop. Type 1 diabetes may come on gradually or suddenly.
But kids or teens who develop type 1 diabetes may:
In some cases, other symptoms can be the signal that something is wrong. Sometimes the first sign of diabetes is bedwetting in a child who has been dry at night. Diabetes also should be suspected if a girl who hasn’t started puberty yet gets a vaginal yeast infection.
Doctors can say for sure if a person has diabetes by testing blood samples for glucose. When high blood sugars show that a child has diabetes, other blood tests are usually done to help doctors find out if the child has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, because management and treatment of the diabetes may differ based on type.
If diabetes is suspected or confirmed, the doctor may refer your child to a pediatric endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kids with diseases of the endocrine system, such as diabetes and growth disorders.
Treatment means good diabetes control to minimize symptoms; prevent health problems; and help kids have normal physical, mental, emotional, and social growth and development. To do this, parents and kids should aim to keep blood sugar levels within the goal range as much as possible.
In general, kids with type 1 diabetes need to:
Following the treatment plan helps kids stay healthy, but treating diabetes isn’t the same as curing it. Right now, there’s no cure for diabetes, so kids with type 1 diabetes will need treatment for the rest of their lives. But with proper care, they should look and feel healthy and go on to live long, productive lives, just like other kids.
If early symptoms of diabetes are missed and treatment isn’t started, chemicals called ketones can build up in the blood and cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fruity-smelling breath, breathing problems, and even loss of consciousness. Sometimes these symptoms are mistaken for the flu or appendicitis. Doctors call this serious condition diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA.
Diabetes also can cause long-term complications in some people, including heart disease, stroke, vision impairment, and kidney damage. It also can cause other problems throughout the body in the blood vessels, nerves, and gums. While these problems don’t usually show up in kids or teens who’ve had type 1 diabetes for only a few years, they can affect them in adulthood, particularly if their diabetes isn’t well controlled.
There’s good news, though — proper treatment can stop or control these diabetes symptoms and reduce the risk of long-term problems.
Doctors and researchers are developing new equipment and treatments to help kids cope with the special problems of growing up with diabetes.
Some kids and teens are already using devices that make blood glucose testing and insulin injections easier, less painful, and more effective. One of these is the insulin pump, a mechanical device that can deliver insulin more like the pancreas does. There’s also been progress toward the development of a wearable or implantable “artificial pancreas.” This consists of an insulin pump linked to a device that measures the person’s blood glucose level continuously.
Doctors and scientists are investigating a potential cure for diabetes. This involves transplanting insulin-producing cells into the body of a person with diabetes. Researchers are also testing ways to stop diabetes before it starts. For example, scientists are studying whether diabetes can be prevented in those who may have inherited an increased risk for the disease.
Parents can help their kids lead happier, healthier lives by giving constant encouragement, learning what they can about diabetes, and making sure their children eat properly, exercise, and stay on top of blood sugar control every day.
Kids and teens with diabetes need to monitor and control their glucose levels. They need to:
Living with diabetes is a challenge for anyone, but kids and teens often have special issues to deal with. Young kids might not understand why they need blood tests and medicines. They might be scared, angry, and uncooperative.
Teens may feel different from their peers and want a more carefree lifestyle than their diabetes allows. Even when they faithfully follow their treatment schedule, they might feel frustrated if the natural body changes of puberty make their diabetes somewhat harder to control.
Having a child with diabetes may seem overwhelming at times, but you’re not alone. If you have questions or problems, reach out to the diabetes health care team — they can help with medical issues, and are there to support and help you and your child.
You’ve probably heard your child’s doctor talk a lot about diabetes control. What is it and why is it important?
For kids diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it’s important to create a diabetes management plan to help them manage the condition and stay healthy and active.
To keep blood sugar levels under control, you have to check them regularly. Learn about checking and recording your child’s blood sugar levels.
Kids and teens with type 1 diabetes have a greater risk for thyroid disease, celiac disease, and Addison’s disease. Learn more about these autoimmune disorders.
Long-term health problems associated with diabetes can affect many areas of the body. So it’s important to know about these complications and help prevent them.
Caring for a child with diabetes includes knowing when to get medical help. Learn more about when to call the doctor.
Whether your child is taking insulin or pills (or both) to control diabetes, it’s important to learn how diabetes medicines work.
Does your child have type 1 or type 2 diabetes? Learn how to manage the disease and keep your child healthy.
Dealing with diabetes can stir up a lot of different emotions. Find out more about dealing with your feelings if you’re a kid with diabetes.
Taking care of your diabetes includes knowing when to call a doctor and get medical help.
Taking medicines is a major part of staying healthy if you have diabetes because they help you keep your blood sugar levels under control.
For most kids with diabetes, taking medicine is an important part of staying healthy. Find out more in this article for kids.
Our Diabetes Center provides information and advice for teens about treating and living with diabetes.
The things you do now could help prevent diabetes later, depending on the type of diabetes. Here’s the scoop on diabetes prevention.
Parents want to protect their kids from everything, which is virtually impossible, of course. But can you prevent your child from getting diabetes?
Diabetes is a health problem that affects kids of all ages, but you can’t catch it like a cold. In some cases, diabetes can be prevented. Find out how.
People who have diabetes may hear or read a lot about controlling, or managing, the condition. But what is diabetes control and why is it so important?
Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose, a sugar that is the body’s main source of fuel. In type 1 diabetes, glucose can’t get into the body’s cells where it’s needed.
Thousands of kids all over the world have type 1 diabetes, a disease that affects how the body uses glucose.
People with type 1 diabetes need to follow a treatment plan to manage their diabetes and stay healthy and active.
Kids who have type 1 diabetes need to take some important steps to feel good and stay healthy.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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