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How is type 1 diabetes treated in young children?

William Lee Dubois
Endocrinologist

Type 1 diabetes is a poorly understood auto-immune disease that causes the body to mistake the insulin producing cells of the pancreas for invaders. The body’s immune system then attacks these pancreatic “beta” cells and destroys them, taking with them the body’s ability to produce insulin. As you cannot live without insulin, it’s a potentially fatal case of “friendly fire.”

Fortunately, while complicated and stressful for both the parents and the child, it is a treatable disease.

Note that I said treatable, not curable.

Type 1 diabetes is controlled by taking insulin from outside the body to replace the insulin that is missing from the inside. Children will need several shots per day or an insulin pump to control their blood sugars; but they can live long, happy, healthy lives.

When it comes to young children, although the medication is the same, we do look at specialized delivery options. We do this simply because young children are small ecosystems. A little bit of insulin will go a long way when the patient weights 32 pounds!

Insulin syringes are made in sizes as small as 30 units total volume, which can make it easier to estimate the smaller doses children require. Additionally, two companies make ½ unit insulin pens for children; and we also have the option of insulin pumps which can deliver very small percentages of a unit of insulin for fine tuning.

Also known as insulin-dependent or juvenile onset diabetes, this condition occurs when the pancreas produces too little insulin, the hormone that allows blood sugar (glucose) to enter body cells and be used as fuel. Without adequate insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, but the body is unable to use it for energy.

Management of type 1 diabetes calls for directly injecting insulin under the skin anywhere between 1 and 4 times a day. Daily exercise and diet are important in order to maintain blood sugar levels and a normal weight when controlling both types of diabetes. However, since type 2 is strongly tied to overweight and inactivity, a change in lifestyle—weight, diet, exercise—is the most effective way to manage it. A child with this condition should be taught how to recognize low blood sugar, and what to do about it. If insulin injections are necessary, they should be taught how to administer it to themselves.

From Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children by Jennifer Trachtenberg.

Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.