Childhood Diabetes (Type 1 Diabetes)

By Alicia Purdy

Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), also known as childhood or juvenile diabetes, is a scary, complicated diagnosis for most parents to hear. It will mean a big adjustment for you, your child and the people in your life. The good news is that there have been a number of developments in recent years that make living with this type of diabetes very manageable.

Type 1 Diabetes generally develops as a result of a faulty immune system response. Normally, the body's immune system will attack infections, but when the immune system misbehaves, instead of attacking infectious invaders, it attacks cells in the body that are necessary for life. With Type 1 Diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreatic cells that are used to make insulin. Insulin plays a critical role in moving nutrients into the body's systems. Once the body's cells or systems receive the appropriate nutrients, the pancreas should stop increasing the insulin levels. However, for a child with Type 1 Diabetes, the pancreas does not correctly adjust the insulin levels. This throws the body's systems into dangerous disorder, causing sugars to build up, leading to serious health issues. The cause of Type 1 Diabetes is unknown.

Statistics for Type 1 Diabetes

Out of the 26 million people living in the U.S. who have diabetes, five percent (about 215,000) will be diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Currently, according to the National Institutes of Health, millions of people who have Type 1 Diabetes don't know they have it.

Many people mistakenly associate childhood obesity with childhood diabetes; however, Type 1 is not necessarily linked to weight problems. It is Type 2 Diabetes that is linked to weight issues and is a growing concern for children who struggle with their weight.

Diabetes is a serious illness and is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. Cardiovascular disease is the most common problem leading to death among people with diabetes.

Living with Childhood Diabetes

Kids don't often understand how serious their illnesses are, so it's up to parents to keep a close eye on their health. The main ways you will help your child live with Type 1 are through insulin management, blood glucose control, nutrition or diet, exercise and support. This means that every meal needs to be monitored for glucose-friendly, nutritional balance. Learn how to give insulin shots, watch for warning signs and know when to check insulin levels. You'll need to inform others that your child has a serious medical issue, including:

  • Parents of your child's friends

  • Your child's school and after-school programs

  • Family members

  • Sitters, daycare providers and anyone else who may be with your child

All the adults and care providers in your child's life will need to know how to deal with emergencies if any should arise.

Additionally, your child should grow up knowing how to communicate to others about his disease, and how to handle emergencies. Your child will need to monitor his own insulin and blood glucose levels and know how to stop problems before they arise.

Achieving Normalcy while Managing Childhood Diabetes

Millions of people with Type 1 Diabetes have active, healthy, vital lives. Olympic athletes, actors, and musicians are just some of the people living extraordinarily busy and productive lives while they manage Type 1 Diabetes. Even though a Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis may seem scary and upsetting, it's not a death sentence. If you suspect your child may have Type 1, look for things like unexplained weight loss, extreme fatigue, extreme thirst or hunger, frequent urination and cuts and bruises that are slow to heal. Contact your doctor if you think there's a problem.

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