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Diabetes in Children

Until recently, the common type of diabetes in children and teens was type 1. It was called juvenile diabetes. With Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose, or sugar, get into your cells to give them energy. Without insulin, too much sugar stays in the blood.1

Now younger people are also getting type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes. But now it is becoming more common in children and teens, due to more obesity. With Type 2 diabetes, the body does not make or use insulin well.1

Many type 1 diabetic children do not have diabetes in their families however, so the exact cause remains a mystery.2

Type 2 diabetes amongst children is usually caused by an extremely bad diet from a very young age, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle without exercise.2

What symptoms do children with diabetes exhibit?2

Like adults, a number of symptoms may give early warning that diabetes has developed.
One or more of the following symptoms may be associated with diabetes:

  • Thirst
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urination

Amongst children, specific symptoms may include stomach aches, headaches and behavioral problems. Recurrent tummy pains and an unexplainable history of illness should be treated as possible heralds of diabetes.

How are children with diabetes treated?3

For most kids with diabetes, taking medicine is an important part of staying healthy. Medicine, such as insulin, is a must for kids with type 1 diabetes. A kid with type 2 diabetes might need medicine too. His or her doctor will say if it’s necessary.

And if a kid’s doctor says to take diabetes medicine, it’s very important for the kid to take it just as the doctor suggests. Not taking medicine — or not taking it correctly — can make a kid feel terrible and cause health problems. He or she even could end up in the hospital.

Taking the medicine correctly keeps blood sugar levels from getting too high or too low, which will help a kid stay healthy and feel good.

Managing Diabetes at School4

Goodbye, summer. Hello, homework. And guess what—the first assignment isn’t for kids. Parents, make a game plan to ensure all the bases are covered for your child’s diabetes care at school.

Getting back into the routine of school takes a little more preparation for kids with diabetes, but it pays off over and over as the weeks and months go by. And since kids spend nearly half their waking hours in school, reliable diabetes care during the school day really matters.

Here are some tips to help you manage your child’s diabetes at school.

1. Make a Diabetes Management Plan4

No two kids handle their diabetes exactly the same way. Before the year begins, meet with your child’s doctor to develop a personalized Diabetes Medical Management Plan.

The diabetes management plan explains everything about diabetes management and treatment, including:

  • Target blood sugar range and whether your child needs help checking his or her blood sugar
  • Your child’s specific hypoglycemia (low blood sugar, or “low”) symptoms and how to treat hypoglycemia
  • Insulin or other medication used
  • Meal and snack plans, including for special events
  • How to manage physical activity/sports

The diabetes management plan works with your child’s daily needs and routine. Make sure to update it every year or more often if treatment changes.

2. Team Up With School Staff4

Work with teachers and other staff to make sure all the bases are covered for a safe and successful year.

The school nurse is usually the main staff member in charge of your student’s diabetes care, but may not always be available when needed. One or more backup school employees should be trained in diabetes care tasks and should be on site at all times during the day, including after-school activities.

Make sure to visit the classroom(s). Some teachers may have had kids with diabetes in class before, but there’s still a learning curve because every student is unique—and so is every teacher.
This is a great time to talk about class rules. Are students allowed to leave the room without asking? Should they raise their hand? The more your child and teacher understand each other’s needs, the less disruptive and awkward self-care activities will be. You may want to ask if the teacher could talk to the class about diabetes—what it is and isn’t, what happens, and what needs to be done every day—without pointing out that your child has diabetes.
Also let the teacher know specific signs to look for if your son or daughter’s blood sugar is too low. Does he or she get irritable or nervous? Hungry or dizzy? The teacher may notice the signs before your child does and can alert him or her to eat an appropriate snack or get help.

Kids with diabetes need to be physically active just like other kids. In fact, physical activity can help them use less insulin because it lowers blood sugar. Talk with the physical education instructor about what your kid needs to participate fully and safely.

3. Treating Hypoglycemia4

Hypoglycemia can happen quickly and needs to be treated immediately. It’s most often caused by too much insulin, waiting too long for a meal or snack, not eating enough, or getting extra physical activity. Hypoglycemia symptoms vary, so school staff should be familiar with your child’s specific symptoms, which could include:

  • Shakiness
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Sweating, chills, or clamminess
  • Irritability or impatience
  • Dizziness and difficulty concentrating
  • Hunger or nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Anger, stubbornness, or sadness

If your child has hypoglycemia several times a week, visit his or her doctor to see if the treatment plan needs to be adjusted.

4. Stay Well All Year4

  • Make sure your child has had all recommended shots, including the flu shot. Kids with diabetes can get sicker from the flu and stay sick longer.
  • Regular hand washing, especially before eating and after using the bathroom, is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.

References: 1. Diabetes in Children | Type 1 Diabetes | Type 2 Diabetes | MedlinePlus [Internet]. 2020 [cited 19 September 2020]. Available from: 2. Children and Diabetes [Internet]. Diabetes. 2019 [cited 19 September 2020]. Available from: 3. Medicines for Diabetes (for Kids) – Nemours KidsHealth [Internet]. 2018 [cited 19 September 2020]. Available from: 4. Managing Diabetes at School [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [cited 19 September 2020]. Available from:

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