Explaining Type 1 Diabetes
Basal Bolus Safety Skills
Learn more about how to explain a type 1 diabetes diagnosis to your child.
What is type 1 diabetes?
- It is a disease that attacks your child’s pancreas and destroys important cells called beta cells.
- The beta cells stop making insulin.
- It is the second most common chronic illness in children.
What is insulin?
- Insulin is a hormone made by the beta cells in the pancreas.
- It allows sugar (glucose) to enter the body’s cells to give them energy.
- Your child needs this energy to think, play and work.
What happens without insulin?
- Sugar (glucose) is not able to enter the body’s cells to give energy.
- The sugar builds up in your child’s bloodstream.
- The blood sugar will go higher. Things will start to happen that are dangerous to your child’s health.
- Your child’s body begins to break down fats to get energy (since the body isn’t getting energy from sugars).
- Fat breakdown causes ketones.
- High levels of ketones in the body will make your child very sick.
- The kidneys try to send the extra sugar in the blood out of the body in urine.
- This pulls water from the body and causes your child to urinate.
- Your child will drink and urinate more as the blood sugar increases.
- This leads to dehydration.
What is the treatment?
- Insulin by injection is the only treatment for type 1 diabetes.
- Insulin injections will replace the insulin your child no longer makes.
- There is no pill form of insulin.
- Meal planning and exercise also help control diabetes.
How did my child get type 1 diabetes?
- The exact cause is not known.
- There is a genetic (hereditary) risk.
- There is also an unknown trigger that causes the beta cells to die.
- You and your child did not cause this.
- There is no way you could have prevented it.
How will diabetes affect my child’s life?
- Your child is still the same.
- Your child can still do everything they used to do. This includes:
- Driving a car
- Going to college
- Having children in the future
What is type 2 diabetes?
- The blood sugar is high but for different reasons.
- Insulin is still made by the pancreas, but does not work well (insulin resistance).
- People who are overweight, not active and have diabetes in their family are at risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Meal planning, exercise, pills and insulin injections are used to control type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes daily care
- There are diabetes tasks you and your child will need to do every day.
- You will receive a daily schedule to guide you.
- This involves:
- Checking blood sugars at least four times each day
- Giving injections of insulin before each meal/snack and at bedtime
- Eating healthy meals and snacks
- Exercising daily
- Your child needs to wear medical alert identification at all times.
- We will teach you and will be here to support you.
Why does my child need to wear a medical alert identification at all times?
- In an emergency situation, paramedics can provide the right treatment to your child.
- Have your child wear a bracelet or necklace.
- An infant or toddler should NOT wear a necklace because it is a choking hazard.
- Have your infant or toddler wear a bracelet or a medical alert ID on his shoe.
- Put a medical alert on your child’s car seat in case of a car accident.
Will my child have to go to the hospital more often?
- Most children are only admitted to the hospital when first diagnosed.
- Your child will not be sick more often than other children.
- Your child should not miss more school than other children.
- Your child will not have trouble fighting infections.
Can my child have children in the future?
- Yes, your child can have children.
- Pregnant women with diabetes are watched closely by their obstetricians to prevent problems during the pregnancy.
What are the chances of my other children or grandchildren getting diabetes?
- There is a 1 in 20 chance of a brother or sister getting diabetes.
- There is a 1 in 20 chance your grandchild will get diabetes.
What is good diabetes control?
- Blood sugars in target range most of the time (70% to 80% of the time).
- Your child and family take care of the diabetes while continuing to do the things they have always done.
Ideal blood sugar ranges
- Below are ideal blood sugar ranges for before meals:
- Younger than 6 years: 80 to 180
- 6 to 12 years: 70 to 165
- 13 years and older: 70 to 150
- Aim to keep the blood sugar in range most of the time.
- Staying in range most of the time helps keep your child healthy.
What is the normal blood sugar range for people without diabetes?
- Blood sugars that are 70 to 110 before meals are normal for people without diabetes.
- It is not possible for someone with diabetes to always have blood sugars in this range.
What is the “honeymoon period?”
- Right after diagnosis, your child’s pancreas may still be making a little insulin.
- The amount of insulin given by injection will be lower.
- It is easier to control blood sugars during this time.
- The honeymoon may last several months to two years.
- When it is over, the blood sugars will go higher and your child will need more insulin.
What is my role as a parent of a child with diabetes?
- Learn how to become the best manager of your child’s diabetes. At first, you will contact the Diabetes Center at CHOP if there is a situation new to you or you have questions. Eventually you will know how to do a lot yourself.
- We will help you learn how to make decisions about food, exercise and insulin.
- Always make sure your child has diabetes supplies.
- Always make sure that your child’s diabetes care is done.
- Always make sure your child wears a medical alert identification.
- As your child gets older, help them learn to manage their diabetes independently.
What is my child’s role?
- They should help you by doing what they are able to do at their age.
- A young child may choose the finger for blood sugar tests.
- A school-aged child can learn to count carbs and record blood sugars in the log.
- An older child can learn to give injections.
- A teen can learn to put all the pieces of diabetes care together. However, parents still need to supervise their teens.
- Your child/teen must always wear a medical alert identification.
What is the role of the Diabetes Center?
- We will teach you how to take care of your child’s diabetes.
- We want you to become the expert in their care.
- In the beginning, we will walk you through all the decisions.
- As you learn more, you will make the decisions about your child’s diabetes care.
- As you become more confident, we will support your decisions.
- You can check in with us when what you have tried hasn’t worked.
- We will teach you how to manage your child’s diabetes during sickness or when they has ketones.
- We will help you prepare your child for independent diabetes management as they get older.
How often will we see our diabetes team?
- Plan to bring your child to appointments every three months.
- Plan to attend more education classes over time.
- At times, you may need other appointments for nutrition or family support.