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Making Sense of Type 1 Diabetes

Managing type 1 diabetes and living healthfully can present a formidable challenge to both those who have it and the people who care for them. Since diabetes requires constant monitoring of food-intake and regular glucose readings, the psychological burden of dealing with the disease can be significant. Here are some guidelines if you or someone you love has type 1 diabetes.

Familiarize yourself with the facts. In type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent), the pancreas completely stops producing any insulin, a hormone that enables the body to use glucose (sugar) found in foods for energy. Instead of the body converting glucose into energy, it backs up in the blood stream and causes a variety of symptoms, including fatigue. Type 1 diabetes primarily impacts children and teenagers, although it can occur at any age when the pancreas stops producing insulin. Type 1 diabetes is different from type 2 diabetes because it is treatable only with insulin, delivered either via multiple syringe injections subcutaneously (under the skin) or through an insulin pump.

Leave behind the blame game. It is important for people with type 1 diabetes to know that they did not cause the onset of the disease, and that they are not to blame for being diagnosed with diabetes; this is especially true for children who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It is crucial that you periodically check-in with your son or daughter to gauge where they are at in terms of understanding diabetes, and what they need to do to stay healthy. Remember that everyone deals with serious issues at a different pace, so if your child doesn’t want to talk about how they feel right away, don’t pressure him or her.

Learn the symptoms of highs and lows. If your child has just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you should talk to them about symptoms of both high and low blood glucose. Learning the symptoms objectively will help your son or daughter identify them if they experience a low or high blood glucose reaction. Likewise, if you're an adult who has just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, be sure you understand the symptoms of both conditions, and always carry a snack with at least 15 g of carbohydrate to treat hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Understand the importance of glucose testing. Regular testing of glucose before and after meals will help you get your blood glucose under control. If you've recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it is very important that you test regularly and log your readings. This will allow you to document patterns in your glucose (sugar) readings, and treat them accordingly. Likewise, children with type 1 need to understand the rationale for regular checking, whether or not they can do the checks themselves. As they mature, they’ll understand that greater glucose control comes from frequent glucose monitoring, and they’ll take on the responsibility themselves.

Introduce injection or pump management. Every child is different in his or her capacity to cope with the demands of diabetes, but all children need and deserve their parents’ help and support well into the teenage years. Before you give your child the responsibility for measuring and injecting insulin, remember that this is a serious and complex matter. Your child needs to be mature enough to handle the job, and generally, children are not capable of having sole responsibility for insulin injections until they are older adolescents. Eventually, you may want to explore insulin pumping and what kind of advantages it might offer your child. Whatever the decision you make, be sure that you research all options and consider your child's opinion about their preferred method of treatment. If you're an adult and have been diagnosed with type 1, explore all options for insulin delivery, because the best treatment program is the one that best fits your lifestyle.

Page last updated: October 24, 2014