What a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis means for your family

My oldest child has recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Is there a difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes? There is so much we need to learn about options for insulin, counting carbohydrates, etc. that we are overwhelmed. What can we do to manage his diabetes and what advice do you have for transitioning into this new “normal” and avoiding further health complications?

The diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes in children can be overwhelming at first. Type 1 diabetes in children is an autoimmune condition in which your child’s body no longer produces an important hormone called insulin. Your child needs insulin to survive, so you’ll have to replace the missing hormone. Type 1 diabetes in children requires consistent care, but advances in blood-sugar monitoring and insulin delivery have improved the daily management of the condition.

There are several options for insulin delivery, including using a syringe or injection pen, which is a device that looks like an ink pen except the cartridge is filled with insulin. A third option is a device about the size of a cellphone that is worn on the outside of the body and called an insulin pump. A tube connects a reservoir of insulin to a catheter inserted under the skin of the abdomen to directly input insulin in the body.

As you probably know, there are several blood tests for Type 1 diabetes in children — the primary screening being a blood sugar test taken at a random time. It’s likely that a pediatrician will recommend additional tests to confirm the type of diabetes that your child has. It’s important to distinguish between Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes, because treatment strategies differ.

Type 2 diabetes is more commonly associated with adults. In fact, it used to be called adult-onset diabetes. But Type 2 diabetes in children is on the rise, fueled largely by the obesity epidemic. Children who are overweight, have high blood pressure, or have a family history of diabetes are at risk of developing diabetes. Children with Type 2 diabetes have varying levels of dependency on insulin and other medication.

Children with Type 2 diabetes may develop the autoimmune disease gradually. Symptoms of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes include increased thirst and frequent urination, weight loss, fatigue, and blurred vision.

Complications of Type 1 diabetes can develop gradually if blood-sugar levels aren’t well-controlled over a prolonged period of time. This can lead to diabetes complications eventually being disabling or even life-threatening. They can include heart and blood vessel disease, osteoporosis, and damage to the nerves, kidneys, and eyes.

For parents of a child with newly diagnosed Type 1 diabetes, the main change is learning to frequently check and adjust blood glucose levels (also called blood sugar). It may need checking 10 to 12 times a day. How much insulin your child needs will depend on the timing of meals, the types of food eaten, and her activity levels.

Nutrition and exercise play a significant role in the management of Type 1 diabetes. Your child’s dietitian will likely suggest that your child — and the rest of the family — consume fewer animal products and sweets. Sugary foods are OK once in a while, as long as they’re included in your child’s meal plan. Kids with Type 1 diabetes can still play sports, just be sure to check blood sugar levels before and after they are very active. Bring snacks along at all times “just in case” as a way to help keep ranges normal.

Your lives will change with your child’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, but in time, you’ll get more comfortable with the process to keep him healthy and active. As you make adjustments, you can take comfort in knowing this autoimmune disease doesn’t have to limit your child.

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