You've probably heard your child's doctor talk a lot about "diabetes control," which usually refers to how close the blood sugar, or glucose, is kept to the desired range. What does this mean and why is it important?
Too much sugar in the bloodstream also can cause long-term damage to body tissues. For example, it can harm blood vessels that supply blood to vital organs, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, vision problems, and nerve problems.
These problems don't usually affect kids or teens with diabetes who've had the disease for only a few years. But they can occur in adults with diabetes, particularly if they haven't managed or controlled their diabetes properly.
Kids with diabetes who don't control their blood sugar levels may also have problems with growth and development and can even experience a delay in the onset of puberty.
Also important is avoiding frequent and/or severe episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can interfere with participation in school and other activities, making it hard for kids to cope with their diabetes and achieve a healthy, happy childhood and adulthood.
Controlling diabetes means keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. It's a three-way balancing act: Your child's medications (such as insulin), food, and activity level all need to be balanced to keep blood sugar levels under control. If any one of these is off, blood sugar levels will be, too.
In general, poorly controlled blood sugar levels can be due to any of the following:
The complications associated with diabetes can seem frightening, but the good news is that studies have shown that people with diabetes who keep their blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible have a much lower likelihood of developing diabetes complications.
One large study showed that people with type 1 diabetes who checked blood sugar levels four or more times a day — and adjusted the amounts of insulin and other diabetes medicines, diet, and exercise based on their readings — had a reduced risk of developing eye disease, kidney problems, nerve damage, and high cholesterol levels (a major risk factor for heart disease).
How do you find out if your child's diabetes is under control? First, the diabetes health care team will tell you what the blood sugar levels should be (the "target" range), which is based on factors such as your child's age and medical condition.
Day to day, the only way to know if the blood sugar levels are close to your child's target range is to measure them often with a glucose meter or continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Glucose meters measure the amount of glucose in droplets of blood obtained by a lancet (small device that pricks the skin). These should be used several times a day.
CGMs are wearable devices that measure blood sugar every few minutes throughout the day and night by using a sensor that is inserted under the skin. By providing a more detailed profile of a person's blood sugar levels, these devices can help some people with diabetes do an even better job of "fine-tuning" their blood sugar control.
You might also use the glycosylated hemoglobin test, which shows blood sugar levels over a longer period. The HbA1C test will give you and the health care team information about your child's blood glucose control during the 2 to 3 months before the test.
Checking blood sugar regularly and keeping an organized and accurate record of the results will ensure that the health care team has the information needed to adjust your child's diabetes management plan.
Helping your child achieve good blood sugar control can be challenging. Here are some tips:
Working with the diabetes health care team will help you better understand and manage the challenges of diabetes and help your child avoid many of the problems associated with it.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 2013
|National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases This group conducts and supports research on many serious diseases affecting public health.|
|American Diabetes Association (ADA) The ADA website includes news, information, tips, and recipes for people with diabetes.|
|Children With Diabetes This website offers true stories about kids and teens who have diabetes.|
|Joslin Diabetes Center The website of this Boston-based center has information about how to monitor blood sugar and manage diabetes.|
|Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF) JDRF's mission is to find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research.|
|3-Day Food Diary If your child has diabetes, you can use this printable sheet to record what he or she eats over a 3-day period.|
|Blood Glucose Record If your child has diabetes, you can use this printable sheet to record his or her blood glucose levels.|
|When Blood Sugar Is Too High Too much glucose in the blood can be unhealthy. Learn more about what to do when blood sugar is too high in this article for kids.|
|When Blood Sugar Is Too Low Hypoglycemia is the medical word for low blood sugar level. It needs to be treated right away. Learn more about what to do when blood sugar is too low in this article for kids.|
|When Blood Sugar Is Too Low When blood glucose levels drop too low, it's called hypoglycemia. Very low blood sugar levels can cause severe symptoms that need to be treated right away.|
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|Diabetes Center Does your child have type 1 or type 2 diabetes? Learn how to manage the disease and keep your child healthy.|
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|Long-Term Complications of Diabetes Talking or thinking about the long-term complications associated with diabetes can be scary for parents and kids. But being aware of diabetes complications can help prevent them.|
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