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Raising a child with diabetes
Targeting children
Meeting goals

Diabetes or something else?
Diabetes or something else?

Type 1 diabetes strikes suddenly and can occur from infancy through early adulthood. Its symptoms often masquerade as the flu, a stomach virus or a bladder infection. Watch your children for these telltale signs:

  • frequent urination
  • bedwetting, especially after successful potty training
  • constant thirst and craving for sugary drinks
  • continual eating without weight gain or with weight loss
  • fatigue, weakness and apathy
  • irritability or restlessness
  • problems doing schoolwork
  • nausea

When diabetes strikes a youngster, everyone—from parents to schoolteachers— gets involved, checking blood-glucose levels, giving insulin injections or helping the child select food in a cafeteria. Thankfully, most children with diabetes do lead fairly normal lives. But make no mistake—managing a disease combined with raising an otherwise normal child is challenging.

Targeting children

Some 150,000 children under age 18 have diabetes, and 13,000 new cases of Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Most childhood cases are type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes, which require daily insulin injections.

In type 1, the pancreas can’t make insulin, the hormone that transfers glucose from the blood into cells for fuel. Without insulin, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream, causing serious problems. In fact, until insulin became available in the 1920s, type 1 diabetes was always fatal.

Childhood cases of type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes, in which the body either can’t make enough insulin or use it properly, are rising as more and more healthcare providers are seeing more kids with the condition. Although complete data about the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children is not yet available, the CDC estimates that 8 percent to 43 percent of all new diabetes cases are type 2. Childhood obesity plays a major role in 85 percent of these new cases, experts say.

Meeting goals

For those with type 1 diabetes, good health hinges on keeping glucose levels within 80 to 180 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. Doctors, nurses, nutritionists and diabetes educators teach parents and kids to follow a strict daily routine that includes these steps:

  • Checking blood. A small electronic monitor tests droplets of blood from the child’s finger to instantly check glucose and signal if an insulin shot is needed.
  • Giving insulin. Insulin can’t be taken orally. It must either be injected or delivered by a pump, worn like a pager, that feeds insulin through a tube into the abdominal wall.
  • Designing a meal plan. Children with diabetes don’t need special foods. They do, however, need meals that are high in fiber and low in fat, salt and sugar. A dietitian can help design an appropriate menu with foods the entire family will enjoy.
  • Eating by the clock. Children with diabetes need to eat at least three small to moderately sized meals at the same time each day to stave off hypoglycemia, a potentially serious effect of low glucose. Overeating is a no-no—it floods the system with glucose and could lead to weight gain. Children with diabetes should always drink beverages with no calories instead of sugary fruit juice or soda pop.
  • Staying active. Doctor-approved sports or playground activity helps children with diabetes stay trim and feel more energetic. And insulin works better in physically fit kids.

Unfortunately, diabetes is a lifelong condition. But education and support can help youngsters manage their condition so that they’ll grow normally and enjoy lives that are both active and fulfilling.