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Diabetes Factsheet (for Schools)

What Teachers Should Know About Diabetes

Diabetes affects how the body uses glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood. Glucose comes from the foods we eat and gives energy to the cells. The hormone insulin helps glucose get into the cells. Insulin is made in the pancreas.

When a person has diabetes, either their pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or their body can't respond normally to the insulin that is made (type 2 diabetes). In both types of diabetes, when glucose can’t get into the cells, the glucose level in the blood rises. Treatment for diabetes lowers the blood glucose level into a healthy range.

People with diabetes must check their blood glucose with a blood glucose meter multiple times a day or with a wearable device called a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Students with diabetes might need to:

  • Go to the school nurse and monitor blood sugar levels several times a day.
  • Take insulin or wear an insulin pump.
  • Drink from a water bottle in class and use the bathroom often.
  • Eat lunch and snacks at certain times, and eat snacks in class.

Having too much or too little glucose in the blood makes a person feel sick, and they need treatment right away. Students with diabetes could show signs of:

  • Low blood glucose: Symptoms include hunger, shakiness, fast heart rate, dizziness, headache, moodiness, and confusion.
  • High blood glucose: Symptoms include thirst, peeing more than usual, a dry mouth, and dehydration. When high blood glucose isn’t treated, a person might get sicker and develop nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, fruity breath, and confusion.

Students with diabetes may miss class time or be absent due to doctor visits and hospital stays. And they may need special consideration if they miss classes, assignments, or tests.

What Teachers Can Do

Know the basics about diabetes and how to treat an emergency. You want to be ready in case one of your students doesn’t feel well or needs help. Teachers should:

  • Know the symptoms of high blood sugar and low blood sugar.
  • Keep extra snacks, juices, and emergency supplies in the classroom in case a student has symptoms of low blood sugar.
  • Remind students to check their blood sugar levels before, during, and after exercise and to keep a snack handy.
  • Have a copy of your student’s diabetes management plan. Know what to do in an emergency according to the plan.
  • Pay attention to any bullying behavior against your students with diabetes. Bullies often target students who seem "different" or have a health condition.
  • Encourage your students to exercise and play sports at the same level as their peers. Regular exercise is an important part of managing diabetes.

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date Reviewed: Sep 10, 2023

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