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Dealing with Type 1 Diabetes in Children

Every hour, a new case of type 1 diabetes is diagnosed. Every year, about 13,000 children are diagnosed with the disease… and more than one million people live with it every day.

Commonly called juvenile diabetes because it typically strikes during childhood or adolescence, type1 diabetes is a destructive disease that takes a harsh toll on a person’s body. People with type 1 diabetes will be insulin-dependent for life, and face a variety of life-threatening complications.

Dealing with childhood diabetes is difficult because controlling the disease requires following a grueling regimen with strict vigilance – something most children don’t enjoy. In addition to the physical ramifications of the disease, children with diabetes often experience emotional effects due to being ‘different’ from classmates and friends.

As a parent of a child with juvenile diabetes, the diagnosis can be frightening, too. It means a change in your entire family’s life – every hour of every day. However, it’s important that you approach your child’s type I diabetes with a positive, understanding and loving attitude, because your child will follow your lead.

Remember, although dealing with type 1 diabetes may seem overwhelming for both you and your child, it will not prevent them from having a normal, full and happy life.

Understanding type 1 diabetes, from how the disease functions to how to cope with emotional issues, as well as introducing the necessary lifestyle changes, will not only protect your child’s health, but also improve quality of life.

Understanding Childhood Obesity and Type 1 Diabetes

Perhaps the biggest myth surrounding type 1 diabetes is that it’s caused by obesity (or eating too much sugar). Although scientists don’t know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes, they believe a variety of genetic and environmental factors are involved.

Type 1 diabetes is actually an immune disorder in which the body attacks and destroys certain cells (beta cells) in the pancreas. These beta cells produce insulin. When the beta cells are destroyed, the body can no longer produce insulin. As a result, glucose stays in the blood, where is can cause serious damage to all the organ systems.

This is why people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin in order to survive.

The myth that childhood obesity and type 1 diabetes are linked is due to confusion or misunderstanding of the types of diabetes. (Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity.)

What Are Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms?
Although type 1 diabetes is only responsible for 5% to 10% of all diabetes cases, it is the leading cause of diabetes in children. In most cases, the onset is rapid and you’ll be able to pinpoint when symptoms began.

Common type 1 diabetes symptoms include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Lethargy / drowsiness
  • Breath odor (fruity, sweet or wine-like)
  • Sugar in urine
  • Sudden vision changes, blurred vision
  • Increased appetite, constant hunger
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Heavy, labored breathing
  • Vomiting, often mistaken for a case of gastroenteritis
  • Stupor / unconsciousness (diabetic ketoacidosis – DKA)

  • What Are the Long-Term Risks of Childhood Diabetes?
    Juvenile diabetes presents the risk of long term complications. In addition to the risks listed below, autoimmune diseases like celiac disease and autoimmune thyroiditis are linked to type 1 diabetes.


    Also Known As



    Diabetic Retinopathy

    Proliferative Retinopathy

    Progressive disease that destroys small blood vessels in the retina, eventually causing blindness.

    Nearly all people with type 1 diabetes are symptomatic. About 20% to 30% develop an advanced form.

    Cardiovascular disease

    CVD, Heart Disease

    Heart disease, most commonly in the form of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), is the most life-threatening consequence of diabetes.

    People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease.


    “Low blood sugar”

    Caused by lower than normal blood sugar levels, which can cause a variety of symptoms, the most severe of which is a diabetic coma.

    The risk of hypoglycemia can be reduced by monitoring blood sugar levels, following nutritional guidelines and taking medications (insulin) as prescribed.


    Diabetic Kidney Disease, End-Stage Renal Disease (ERD)

    Slow deterioration of the kidney and kidney function, which in severe cases can eventually result in kidney failure.

    About 33% of people with type 1 diabetes experience nephropathy.


    Autonomic Neuropathy

    Loss of feeling, pain or weakness in feet, legs, hands and arms. Can result in digestive problems, diarrhea, erectile dysfunction, rapid heartbeat and low blood pressure.

    About one-fourth of people with diabetes eventually develop foot problems.

    How Can I Help My Child Manage Type 1 Diabetes?
    If your child has type 1 diabetes, you’ll need a team of health care providers (physician, diabetes educator, dietician, social worker and psychologist) to manage his or her special medical, educational, nutritional and behavioral needs. You team will work with you and your child to develop a personalized daily diabetes plan.

    Remind Your Child to Take Diabetes Medication as Prescribed
    If your child has juvenile diabetes, it’s critical that he or she takes insulin at the proper times each day, whether it’s by syringe injections, insulin pen needles, insulin pump or a needle-free insulin device.

    It’s also important that your child’s medication is properly balanced with food and physical activities every day. While this is easier to monitor when your child is in your care, attending school and other activities where your child is not under your supervision can pose risks. Be sure your child is properly prepared – and always educate and inform any adults supervising your child of special needs.

    Teach Your Child Proper Nutrition Management
    Teach your child, and entire family, how food, especially carbohydrates such as breads, pasta, and rice, affects type 1 diabetes and blood glucose levels. Help your child understand the correct portion sizes and number of calories, as well as how to make healthy food choices. Discuss why it’s important to reduce juices and colas in their diet. Your support and encouragement for your child’s meal plan is a key to its success, especially if your child takes insulin.

    Monitor Your Child’s Blood Glucose Levels
    Children with type 1diabetes should know the acceptable range for their blood glucose, as well as how to check these levels on a regular basis using a blood glucose meter. Give your child an insulin log book and teach him or her to record the results, so they can discuss them with their health care team. This information is important so that health care providers can adjust your child's diabetes plan on an on-going basis.

    Encourage Your Child to Be Physically Active
    In addition to controlling weight, 60 minutes of physical activity each day helps to control type 1 diabetes. To avoid hypoglycemia, check your child’s glucose levels before any activity begins. If the levels are below normal, do not allow your child to participate until their low blood glucose level is treated and returns to normal.

    Remember…dealing with type 1 diabetes can be challenging for everyone involved – most of all, your child. The best thing you can do for your child is to be informed about childhood diabetes and maintain a positive, encouraging outlook.


    Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) –
    National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse –
    Mayo Clinic – (Nemours Foundation) –

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