A diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is life-changing for a child--and his or
her parents. Formerly called juvenile diabetes because it's most commonly
diagnosed in young people, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition
in which the body attacks and kills the pancreatic cells that produce
insulin. Without insulin, the body can't use the glucose its cells
need for energy--and instead, blood sugar can rise to dangerously high levels.
"That means that affected children and their parents must be vigilant
about monitoring their condition--and because there is no cure, this type
of maintenance will last a lifetime," says
Maureen Villasenor, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. "Healthy diet and exercise, blood sugar monitoring and insulin treatments
are all part of that. Proper management of type 1 diabetes not just helps
a child with day-to-day living, but it's also crucial for ensuring
her long-term health." The complications of poorly managed type 1
diabetes are wide-ranging and can include blood vessel, nerve and kidney
damage, skin conditions and osteoporosis."
The cause of type 1 diabetes isn't known, although genetics are thought
to play a large part; other theories postulate that low levels of vitamin
D or exposure to viruses may be factors. Type 1 diabetes also differs
from type 2, which is the more common form of diabetes. With type 2 diabetes,
the pancreatic cells can still produce insulin, but the body either doesn't
get enough or becomes resistant to it.
There are certain signs that a child could have type 1 diabetes. She could
be thirstier or urinate more frequently than usual, because of the high
levels of blood sugar. The child may also experience increased hunger,
weight loss, blurry vision, mood changes or tiredness, and girls can contract
yeast infections. If parents notice any of these symptoms, they should
take their child to the pediatrician, who can run blood or urine tests
to determine if type 1 diabetes is the cause.
If the doctor comes back with a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, there are
several things parents should do to get a management plan in place. Among
Dr. Villasenor's suggestions:
Form a treatment team. This can include the general pediatrician, a pediatric endocrinologist,
a nutritionist and a support system. "Type 1 diabetes is a huge life
adjustment and it can be stressful for parents and children. Support groups
can help meet emotional needs," Dr. Villasenor says.
Choose an insulin treatment. The medical team will help parents decide on how best to administer insulin
to the child. This can be done either through injections or via a small
external pump that is connected to the abdomen with a catheter.
Learn how to check blood sugar levels. Blood sugar monitoring is key to successful diabetes management. It can
be done either with a regular meter that pricks the fingertip skin to
test the blood or with continuous glucose monitoring, in which a sensor
placed under the skin takes periodic readings. "Because ideal blood
sugar levels are dependent on many factors, parents should get those numbers
from the child's doctors," Dr. Villasenor says. "And, especially
in the beginning, they'll want to test their child at various times
throughout the day to see how blood sugar levels rise and fall--in the
morning, after exercise, after meals, etc. Keeping a log of these numbers
can help parents and doctors modify the diabetes management plan as needed."
Know the symptoms of low blood sugar. This condition, called hypoglycemia, can cause severe problems so it's
important to know the signs. These include sweating, shaking, hunger,
headaches and tiredness. If a child is experiencing these symptoms, parents
should get a blood sugar level reading. If it's under the low number
given by the doctor, the child should stabilize it by consuming about
15 grams of glucose, via tablets or gel, or carbohydrates such as juice,
lowfat milk, raisins or hard candies.
Don't forget diet and exercise. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes doesn't require a special
diet plan. But that doesn't mean the child can load up on processed,
fatty or sugary foods. Whole grains and fresh produce should be mainstays
of the child's diet. Dr. Villasenor adds, "If the parents and
child monitor how exercise affects blood sugar levels, and take the necessary
precautions to avoid hypoglycemia, there's no reason the child can't
reap the health benefits of consistent physical activity."
Educate others. Knowledge is power when it comes to diabetes management. "Developing
a diabetes care plan and sharing it with a child's school, babysitters
or other caretakers such as family members ensures everyone is on the
same page when it comes to monitoring blood sugar levels and preventing
and dealing with hypoglycemia," Dr. Villasenor says. "And depending
on the child's age, parents will want to start teaching them to self-monitor,
administer insulin and recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar. With
everyone working together and properly informed about type 1 diabetes,
it makes life much easier for the child."
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