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Diabetes Health Center

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Type 1 Diabetes: Children Living With the Disease - What Happens

Every child experiences type 1 diabetes differently.

The negative effects of diabetes are caused by blood sugar levels that are above or below a target range.

Low blood sugar

Very low blood sugar is a frightening experience for you and your child. But if low blood sugar levels are treated quickly and appropriately, your child should have no lasting effects.

Young children cannot recognize low blood sugar symptoms as well as adults can, which puts them at risk for low blood sugar emergencies. Children who develop hypoglycemia unawareness, which is the inability to recognize early symptoms of low blood sugar until they become severe, or who are trying to keep their blood sugar levels tightly within a target range are also at risk for low blood sugar emergencies.

Make sure your child's caregivers, such as school nurses, know:

Let your doctor know if your child is having frequent episodes of low blood sugar. You can use this form(What is a PDF document?) to keep a record of your child's very high or very low blood sugar levels.

High blood sugar

Very high blood sugar puts your child at risk for diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening emergency. Skipping insulin injections, stress, illness, injury, and puberty can trigger high blood sugar. Because blood sugar levels usually rise slowly, you can treat symptoms early and, most often, prevent diabetic ketoacidosis.

High blood sugar can also lead to:

  • Adjustment of the body to high levels. For example, if your child's blood sugar level is consistently at 250 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and suddenly drops to 100 mg/dL, you or your child may think this level is too low when it is really not. Your child may even have symptoms of low blood sugar at target blood sugar levels.
  • Delayed growth and maturity. If your child has high blood sugar levels over a long period of time, he or she may grow and mature more slowly. During puberty, this can delay normal sexual development and the onset of menstruation. And your child may not gain weight properly if he or she doesn't have enough insulin.
  • Complications from the disease (eye, kidney, heart, blood vessel, and nerve disease). But if their blood sugar levels are persistently high, children are more likely to show early signs of these problems, particularly eye and kidney disease. Also, high blood sugar levels during childhood and adolescence put your child at risk for these diseases in early adulthood.
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