Special care for kids with diabetes

2013 U.S. News & World Report Best Children's Hospitals - Diabetes & Endocrinology

Type 1 diabetes can appear in children as young as 1 year old. Being diagnosed with diabetes at such a young age does not have to be frightening. In fact, once children learn how to control the disease, they will have healthy habits to carry them through life.

Type 1 diabetes, which usually affects children and young adults, occurs when the pancreas makes too little or no insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin, a hormone the body needs to use blood sugar for energy.

Researchers are not exactly sure why some young people develop the disorder. But genetic, autoimmune and environmental factors may be involved. “In genetically susceptible people, the immune system is triggered to attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leading to type 1 diabetes,” says Beth Kaminski, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

What to look for

Children who develop this kind of diabetes may have gradual or sudden symptoms. These include the following:

  • Urinating frequently or having accidents, especially at night
  • Experiencing blurred vision
  • Becoming irritable
  • Having more thirst and hunger
  • Losing weight for no obvious reason
  • Feeling extremely tired

“If your child has any of these symptoms – regardless of his or her age – call your doctor as soon as possible,” says Dr. Kaminski.

Daily habits

People with type 1 diabetes need to keep their blood sugar levels in balance every day for the rest of their lives. To do this, they must:

  • Get insulin injections two to four times a day, usually before eating. Doctors decide how much insulin is needed depending on the child’s age, weight, what he or she eats and how active he or she is.
  • Have their blood sugar tested several times a day. Portable devices can check a drop of blood, usually from a finger, to make sure the sugar level is not too high or too low.
  • Eat right. Children with diabetes do not need special foods, but they do need to be more aware of what they eat.
  • Exercise regularly. Many young people can safely participate in activities – including sports and gym class – if their blood sugar is in control.

Tips for parents

Parents have an active role in controlling their young child’s disease. Dr. Kaminski offers these tips:

  • Children with diabetes do best if they can eat meals and snacks at about the same time every day, so try to follow a routine.
  • Stay on schedule with insulin dosages, even if your child is sick. “Missing an insulin dose can cause significant health issues for your child,” says Dr. Kaminski. “Talk with your child’s health care provider about what to do when your child is not feeling or eating well.”
  • Learn to recognize the signs of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar – being cranky, tired, sweaty, hungry, confused and shaky. It can be easily remedied if your child eats something. “Make sure your child always packs a juice box or glucose tablets, which usually will bring blood sugar back up quickly,” says Dr. Kaminski.
  • Always let the adults in your child’s life – teachers, babysitters and day care staff – know your child has diabetes. Teach them to recognize the warning signs of low blood sugar in your child and provide juice and snacks that can be given to your child, if needed.

Pediatric Endocrinologist, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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