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Type 1 Diabetes: How Is It Treated?

Kids who have type 1 diabetes can help themselves stay healthy by taking these four very important steps:

  1. taking insulin (say: IN-suh-lin)
  2. eating a healthy diet and following a meal plan
  3. checking blood sugar levels
  4. being active by playing and getting exercise
  • 90-Second Summary: Type 1 Diabetes

    90-Second Summary: Type 1 Diabetes

    Learn the basics in 90 seconds.

Doing all four can get a little confusing because there's a lot to remember. What comes in handy when you can't keep everything straight in your head? A plan, where everything is written down for you. That's why kids and adults with diabetes each get their own diabetes treatment plan.

This plan will help you and your parents know what to do so you stay healthy, active, and feeling good. You, your parents, and members of your diabetes health care team will work together to make a treatment plan that's right for you. Doing what your plan tells you to do will keep you healthy now — and help you avoid health problems later.

Taking Insulin Shots

Taking insulin shots is an important way that people with diabetes control the amount of glucose (sugar) in their blood. The body gets glucose (say: GLOO-kose) from the food we eat. Glucose is carried through the bloodstream to all the cells in the body. Like batteries in a flashlight, glucose provides energy for the body's cells to work.

But people who have type 1 diabetes can't make a hormone called insulin. Without insulin, glucose can't get into the cells, so it stays in the blood leading to high blood glucose levels. And when you have high blood glucose levels, you might feel sick. Insulin is the only medicine that can get blood sugar levels back to a healthier range in people with type 1 diabetes.

In a person who does not have diabetes, the pancreas (say: PAN-kree-us) produces the right amount of insulin to keep blood sugar levels where they should be. But in someone with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can't make insulin so the person needs to get insulin shots or use an insulin pump. If someone tried to take insulin as a pill, the acids and digestive juices in the stomach and intestines would break down the medicine, and it wouldn't work. 

Getting insulin shots today is nearly painless, thanks to smaller needles. Insulin pumps (which deliver insulin through a small tube placed just under the skin) cut down on the number of shots needed.

Eating Healthy

As part of their treatment plan, kids with diabetes should eat a balanced diet full of nutritious foods, like anyone who wants to be healthy. But when kids eat more of certain foods, they may have to adjust their insulin doses. Carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta, will make blood sugar levels go higher.

Some kids may use a diabetes meal plan. A meal plan can help you keep breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks on a regular schedule, which helps make it easier to control your diabetes. It may also mention the food groups you should include in your meals and suggest some portion sizes right for you.

Even though it's OK to eat fast food or sugary treats once in a while, you won't find a lot of these foods on your meal plan if you have type 1 diabetes. Everyone who eats a healthy diet should limit these foods anyway, because eating too much of them can make a person get too fat or cause other long-term health problems like heart disease. People with diabetes are already at risk for these problems.

Checking Blood Sugar Levels

Checking your blood sugar levels is the only way to see how well your insulin injections and meal plan are working. Most kids with type 1 diabetes should test blood sugar levels with a blood glucose meter. Kids with type 1 diabetes usually need to test about four times a day. Some kids test their blood sugar levels even more often. The meter works by taking a very small blood sample. When you test, you'll feel a quick pinch.

Your parents and diabetes care team may want you to use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM is a wearable device that can measure your blood sugar every few minutes around the clock. Getting more blood sugar readings with a CGM can help you and the care team do an even better job of controlling your blood sugar levels.

By keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, you'll feel better. You'll also be less likely to have diabetes problems later. Your diabetes health care team will let you and your parents know what your blood sugar levels should be and when and how you should test.

Being Active

Kids with diabetes can and should play a lot, just like other kids. Exercise will be part of a kid's diabetes management plan because it can help prevent health problems now and later in life. But blood sugar levels can change during exercise, so kids need to know how to manage that.

Your diabetes health care team can give you some advice on what to do before, during, and after exercise. They can tell you what to do if you don't feel right while you're playing. But with the right combination of eating healthy, checking your blood sugar levels, and taking insulin, you can be active and feel great!

Reviewed by: Shara R. Bialo, MD
Date Reviewed: Aug 20, 2018

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