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How to Manage Your Kid's Type 1 Diabetes

By Paula Spencer Scott
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD

If your child has recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, your family will have a learning curve as you get the hang of proper care and a new routine.

Your lives will change, but in time you'll get more comfortable with this "new normal."

As you make adjustments, you can take comfort in knowing this autoimmune disease doesn’t have to limit your child. "Kids with diabetes can do everything other kids can do," says Andrea Petersen Hulke of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Basic Care

Hospitals offer educational courses that can give your family and caregivers the insight needed to help manage this new situation.

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.

It can take a bit of math skill to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range. But it will get easier with practice. Even if you make a mistake, once you learn the symptoms of how your child reacts when her levels are too low or high, you’ll know how to fix it.

"The math was freaky at first, but there are so many tools to help," says Lisa Sterling, who found out her daughter (now 17) had type 1 when she was 11. Logs, meters, and online trackers will help you stay on top of things.

Insulin can be given by shots (syringe or pen) or by pump. Doctors often start with shots while families learn the basics. A pump is a small computer that gives a steady dose of insulin. You still need to track blood sugar levels to help the pump work right. You, your doctor, and child will decide together which device your child should use.

Day-to-Day Care

"The goal is to manage diabetes around your child's life,” not the other way around, says Jane Chiang, MD, of the American Diabetes Association.

Despite what you may have heard, people with type 1 can eat what they want. Sweets are fine, but they need to be tracked. "It's not about restricting, it's about counting," says Hulke.

Ditto with sports. Kids can play -- they just need to check blood sugar levels before and after. Bring snacks along at all times "just in case." It's a good way to help keep ranges normal.

And with the exception of check-ups, kids with type 1 don’t miss school more often than other kids.

The key is stable diabetes control. "Kids with type-1 diabetes should be allowed to live a normal life," says Chiang. That includes parties, sleepovers, trick or treating, school trips, and sports, she says. Special attention should be given to days when your child is sick, as blood sugar levels may change more dramatically.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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Answer:
Low
0-69
Normal
70-130
High
131+

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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