By: Mel Hendrickson, BSN, RN, Director of Health Services, Penfield Children’s Center

Type 1 diabetes affects about 1.25 million Americans, including many children. This autoimmune disease has no cure, but can be managed with treatment.

What is Type 1 diabetes?

This type of diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin. Insulin is important because it controls blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile diabetes, but can be diagnosed in children and adults.

How do I know if my child has type 1 diabetes?

There are a handful of warning signs you might notice if your child has this condition, including:

  • Greater than average thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss
  • Issues with vision
  • Drowsiness

You might also notice changes in your child’s mood, bedwetting in children who are already potty trained and an increase in appetite. While the cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, having someone in your family that also has diabetes could be a risk factor.

How is type 1 diabetes diagnosed?

If the pediatrician suspects your child has type 1 diabetes, he/she will order a blood test. Specifically, a glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test will be done to determine the average blood sugar level for the last couple of months. If your child is found to have a blood sugar level of 6.5% or higher on more than one test, he has diabetes.

In addition to the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test, a random and/or fasting blood sugar test can also be performed. After being diagnosed with diabetes, additional blood tests might be ordered to determine if your child has type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

What treatment will my child receive?

While there is no cure for type 1 diabetes, your child’s pediatrician will discuss a treatment plan to keep your child healthy and manage the disease, which can allow your child to lead a full life. Most likely, the doctor will prescribe insulin and teach you how to monitor his blood sugar level. He/she will also discuss the importance of eating healthy foods, counting fats, carbohydrates and proteins, and daily exercise.

It’s important to pay attention to your child’s temperament and look for warning signs that he might be suffering from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Dizziness, rapid heartbeat, sweating, headaches, vision problems and more can be signs of low blood sugar. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about how you can be prepared for hypoglycemia before it happens. Always have a fast-acting carbohydrate available, such as fruit juice and a mixed food source of healthy fat and protein (peanut butter) and a carbohydrate (crackers) on hand. During hypoglycemia, it’s important to test your child’s blood sugar level about every 15 minutes. If you do not treat your child’s low blood sugar, he could lose consciousness.

What additional steps can I take to keep my child safe?

  • Buy a bracelet. A bracelet that identifies your child as having type 1 diabetes and accessibility to a glucagon kit can save his life. Make sure all caregivers and family members know how to use the kit. When your child is old enough, teach him to use it himself.
  • Get your child vaccinated! Your child’s immune system can be weakened by type 1 diabetes. Keep your child safe by staying up-to-date on vaccinations and making sure he gets a flu shot.
  • Do not smoke around your child. Smoke increases the chance your child will suffer complications from type 1 diabetes. Even second hand smoke is dangerous.
  • Schedule regular medical appointments for your child and bring a list of questions when you speak to the pediatrician. It can be difficult to think of questions when you’re sitting at the doctor’s office. Write down questions at home as they arise; you’ll be better prepared at your child’s appointment.

Does your child have a chronic condition? What steps have you taken to keep him/her safe?