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New to Type 1 Diabetes? Information for Parents

If you’re like most parents who have just been told your child or teen has type 1 diabetes, it is a complete shock. Only about 10 percent of the time do we find a family history of type 1 diabetes. There is more to learn about what causes, prevents and cures type 1 diabetes.

In the meantime, we must all work together to help your child live a long and healthy life. And yes, that is a realistic goal. Research studies show that people with type 1 diabetes who aim to keep their blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible can significantly lower the chances of life-threatening complications related to diabetes.

What Goes Wrong

The diagnosis of type 1 diabetes was made because your child’s level of glucose (sugar) in the blood was above normal. This indicates that the metabolic system of checks and balances in the body is not working. Insulin is not being produced. Insulin is essential to escort the glucose from the foods we eat into cells of the body where it is critically needed to function properly. As a result, glucose builds up in the bloodstream.

Your child may still be producing some insulin at this point, but in type 1 diabetes the pancreas loses all ability to produce insulin.The islet cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are gradually all destroyed, a process that we cannot at this point stop. Injections of insulin or an insulin pump are then needed to survive.

Click here for more information on type 1 diabetes research at Joslin.

Why Not an Insulin Pill?

Insulin can’t be given orally because it is a protein and would be digested instead of getting to the bloodstream where it is needed. Just about all of the commercially available insulins now are genetically engineered as human insulin. Insulin comes in a variety of preparations that differ according to how fast it takes effect, when that effect is the greatest, and how long it continues to work in the body.

Living With Diabetes

What seems overwhelming now will eventually become routine. One of the first hurdles to get over is that to help your child, you must prick him or her with a needle. This will get easier for all involved. There are new devices as well as some in development that make blood glucose testing and insulin injections less painful, easier and more precise.

To live successfully with diabetes essentially means to learn how to be a pancreas. You have to learn how to monitor blood glucose levels and adjust the levels of insulin needed accordingly. To do this, you must consider several factors:

  • Blood glucose levels, measured several times a day.
  • The timing and content of meals eaten (specifically, considering type and amount of carbohydrates in the foods).
  • The amount of physical activity, which requires more glucose and thus more insulin.
  • And then based on need, getting doses of insulin through multiple injections or an insulin pump into the body multiple times a day.

Getting Help

Your healthcare team will be your main helpline. But you will find many more resources as you are ready to seek more information.

We have more information in our online library—information sheets on such topics as "Diabetes at a Glance," "Getting High Quality Medical Care Amid Changes in Healthcare Insurance," and on monitoring, insulin, nutrition, exercise and diabetes complications. We also have an online Joslin Store with books for and about children with diabetes.

Page last updated: July 24, 2014