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Help Your Child Manage Type 1 Diabetes

Every year in the United States, 13,000 children are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and more than 1 million American kids and adults live with the disease.

If your child recently has been diagnosed with the condition, you're probably in the middle of a crash course – learning about Type 1 diabetes and how you can help your child. The following guide is a good place to start.

What is Type 1 diabetes?

The human body usually is its own best friend. Skin protects, bones support, heart pumps: Every part has a job to do, and everything works together.

However, Type 1 diabetes introduces an enemy within as the body's immune system begins to destroy the islet cells of the pancreas for reasons not yet fully understood. These islet cells produce insulin, which the body needs to use and store the energy it gets from food.

Although Type 1 diabetes can strike at any age, it's most often diagnosed in childhood and adolescence. In the more common Type 2 diabetes – often diagnosed during the adult years – the pancreas still produces insulin, but doesn't make enough or the body doesn't use it effectively. By contrast, people with Type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin. They must inject it every day to survive.

Careful treatment is important

Over the years, doctors and researchers have learned a lot about how to manage diabetes. Studies such as the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial have shown that people who keep tight control over blood glucose levels can prevent or slow complications caused by Type 1 diabetes. For instance, tight control significantly lowered the risk of common diabetes-related problems, such as eye, kidney and nerve disease.

Focus on these things

To reduce the risk of diabetes complications, work closely with your child's doctor to develop an action plan for controlling the disease at home, school or anywhere. You can help your child learn to:

  • Check blood sugar levels. Ask when and how often your child should check his or her blood sugar. Your child's doctor also can provide a target blood sugar range and demonstrate how to use a blood glucose meter.
  • Follow a meal plan. A healthful diet can help your child stay at a healthy weight and keep blood glucose under control. Include your child during meal planning. Also, be a good role model with the food choices you make. As your child becomes an adult, the benefits of learning to eat well will continue to help him or her control blood pressure and cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease.
  • Stay physically active. Regular exercise helps control blood sugar and reduces the risk of future health problems, such as heart disease.
  • Take insulin. Your child's doctor will provide a medication schedule and can show you how to give the shots. To help fine-tune treatment, your child's doctor also may recommend:
    • Keeping a daily record. Write down the results of your child's blood glucose checks, when and how much insulin was given, what your child ate and how much he or she exercised. Show these records to your doctor.
    • Other tests. The A1C test, for example, shows how well diabetes is being controlled over longer periods of time. With proper care and management, a child with Type 1 diabetes can expect to live a full and healthy life.

At times, it may seem overwhelming to have a child with diabetes, especially if your child is rebellious and doesn't follow the treatment plan. But, remember, you're not alone. If you have questions, call your child's doctor.

You can find additional information on the American Diabetes AssociationOpens a new window website.

Source: Healthy Mind Healthy Body®, September 2008.

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