advice

type 1 diabetes in children:
what you need to know

If your little one is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it’s an anxious time for everyone. However, managing the condition is usually pretty straightforward, and there’s a lot of support available out there. We’ve got the lowdown on what you need to know.


diabetes in children

what is diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. This is the hormone that enables glucose to enter our bodies. Glucose is our bodies’ fuel, which we get from eating starchy foods. If we don’t have glucose in our systems, our bodies simply don’t work as well.

It is uncertain what causes it type 1 diabetes in children. It could be an autoimmune problem (the body destroys its insulin-producing cells), a hereditary condition or caused by a viral infection. Unlike type 2 diabetes (which is rare in children), type 1 isn’t associated with being overweight.

what are the signs and symptoms of childhood diabetes?

Chilhood diabetes can develop very quickly, in a matter of weeks or even days. See your GP if your little one:

  • feels very thirsty
  • needs to wee more than usual, especially at night
  • is more tired than you’d expect
  • is losing weight
  • feels itchy around their genitals, or regularly has thrush
  • complains of blurred vision
  • has slow-healing cuts or grazes

If your child shows these later-stage symptoms, they’ll need to be seen urgently at your local hospital:

  • recurring vomiting
  • heavy, deep breathing

It’s good to know that when treatment starts, these symptoms should disappear.

after the diagnosis

When your child is diagnosed with diabetes, it’s normal to feel upset. However, even though diabetes is a life-long condition, it doesn’t mean that your child’s life will be restricted, or that they’ll spend a lot of time being poorly. In fact, once they start insulin treatment, they’ll actually feel better.

How your child responds to the diagnosis depends on their age. Your toddler or pre-schooler is probably too young to understand. However, they’ve just had a bewildering experience as well as feeling unwell, and will need lots of comfort and reassuring cuddles.

controlling childhood diabetes

You and your family will be given lots of support, advice and training, including how to manage their meds. Diabetes is treated with regular insulin doses. Under-fives are usually given insulin with a pump system rather than a needle.

You’ll be encouraged to involve your little one as much as possible, as eventually they’ll need to manage their insulin themselves. Start off simply, by asking them to pass you things. You’ll also learn how to check their blood glucose levels, carried out by a pinprick test.

lifestyle changes

Your doctors will discuss diet and exercise with you. It’s no longer the case that type 1 means a highly restricted diet. A healthy diet with plenty of fruit, veg, and high-fibre starch will help keep your little one full of energy.

Exercise improves the effectiveness of insulin. Happily, children love being active, so it’s easy to persuade your busy toddler to run around, play football or swim. Keep an eye on their glucose levels if they’re extra-active, and be ready to produce a handy, high-carb snack.

moving forwards

At first, managing your little one’s diabetes may feel a bit complicated. However, you’ll get lots of expert help, and with time, the insulin and glucose tests will simply become a part of everyday life. As the whole family embraces a healthy, active lifestyle, having a little one with childhood diabetes won’t seem so overwhelming at all.