boy making cupcakesManaging Pediatric Diabetes

Finding out your child has diabetes can be a scary and nerve-racking experience for everyone involved. Luckily, there are a lot of resources that exist to help guardians take care of their children. Although there is technically no cure for diabetes, children struggling with this disease can lead quite normal lives if it’s kept under control.

Diabetes is a chronic condition involving problems with the body’s ability to change sugar into fuel. The process of managing diabetes involves a combination of blood sugar monitoring, treatments such as insulin therapy, regular exercise of at least 30 minutes a day, and maintaining an overall healthy diet. Parents can help their children manage all of these processes, guiding them to becoming more independent as they age.

What is Pediatric Diabetes?

At a basic level, pediatric diabetes shows up when your child’s blood sugar levels are too high because your child’s body either doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use that insulin well enough. 

There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2, with type 1 being the more common form found in children. The general symptoms of diabetes are similar, including 

While Type 1 diabetes is much more common in children, the symptoms exhibited in both are very similar, and can include:

  • Elevated thirst or hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurry vision
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the abdomen 
  • Fatigue or weakness 

Type 1 Pediatric Diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, your child’s body doesn’t make insulin because the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that create it. This stops the body from being able to use sugar – glucose – and it instead builds up in the bloodstream, and passes out through urine.

The first sign of your child’s struggle with type 1 diabetes tends to be an observable increase in how often your child urinates, especially at night. Other symptoms include a loss of appetite, weight loss, or extreme thirstiness. Diabetes tends to develop young and usually emerges quite rapidly. High blood sugar levels cause dehydration, and this is dangerous if untreated.

Children with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin every day to stay alive. There is no cure, but it is a manageable disease.

Type 2 Pediatric Diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, your child’s body does not make or use insulin well, known as insulin resistance. This type tends to be developed in adulthood, or “adult-onset” diabetes.

However, with rising rates of child obesity, there is an increasing number of children experiencing this form of diabetes. Risk factors include weight (obesity) as well as family history. Management of this is similar to that of type 1.

Pediatric Diabetes Care

This will help you and your child: 

  • Understand diabetes 
  • Check blood sugar levels at home 
  • Find foods with good carbs 
  • Give an insulin injection 
  • Calculate an insulin dose 
  • Learn what ketones are and how to check them 
  • Understand the signs and symptoms of low and high blood sugar and create action plans to mitigate this 
  • Create a diabetes kit including 
    • Blood sugar monitor, test strips, lancets
    • Insulin
    • Fast-acting sugar 
    • Glucagon
    • Ketostix 
    • Protein or carbohydrate snacks

Treatment for type 1 diabetes includes: 

  • Taking insulin
  • Monitoring blood sugar (at least four times a day)
  • Eating healthy foods (foods that are high in nutrition and low in fat and calories) 
  • Exercising regularly (at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily, but aim for 60) 

Insulin can be injected through a needle and syringe, a pen, or it can through a device called an insulin pump. There are several types of insulin, including rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting. They are labeled based on how long it takes for the insulin to start working. Your doctor and care team will help you manage these different kinds and figure out the combination best suited to your child’s needs. 

Treatment for type 2 diabetes includes 

  • Healthy eating
  • Regular physical activity
  • Blood sugar monitoring
  • Insulin or other medications, such as Metformin or Liraglutide

Your child will need ongoing and essentially lifelong medical care to ensure good diabetes management. Developing good diabetes management habits when a child is young can have a dramatic impact on their management habits as they get older. As your child becomes more independent, you can help them learn to take more responsibility for caring for their diabetes. 

Pediatric Diabetes Care Center

Severe cases of diabetes may require more help, and there are care centers that are designed to help you manage your child’s ongoing needs.

George Mark Children’s House: Our Mission and Care Center

It can be overwhelming and isolating to have a child with complex medical conditions. We partner with families to bring an element of normalcy and joy into their lives.

We develop an individualized care plan for each child, coordinating services among the George Mark care team—pediatricians, nurses, nursing assistants, social workers, child life specialists, palliative aquatics specialists, psychologists, support staff, and volunteers.

In addition to our around-the-clock skilled pediatric nursing, we offer everyday activities including play, art, music, movement, and hydrotherapy.