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Treating Type 1 Diabetes

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
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In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t make the hormone insulin as it should. The body needs insulin to help glucose (sugar) get from the blood into the cells for energy. Without insulin, a person’s blood sugar rises and they get sick.

If your child or teen is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the next step is to start treatment. Treating diabetes means keeping blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Your child’s diabetes care team will treat your child using a personalized diabetes care plan made for them.

Researchers and doctors all over the world are working on a cure for diabetes. Until that happens, following a treatment plan is the key to living a long, healthy life with diabetes.

What Is a Diabetes Care Plan?

A diabetes care plan is a set of instructions for you and your child to follow. The goal of the plan is to help keep your child’s blood sugars in a healthy range.

There are four parts to a diabetes care plan:

  • checking blood sugar levels
  • taking insulin
  • eating a healthy, balanced diet while counting carbohydrates
  • getting regular physical activity

The diabetes care team will teach you and your child the ins and outs of the plan and how to stick to it. There may be a lot to learn in the beginning, but soon enough you will be a pro.

What Happens in Diabetes?

Checking Blood Sugar Levels

Treating type 1 diabetes also includes checking blood sugar levels every day. There are two ways to do this:

  1. With a blood glucose meter. Most kids with type 1 diabetes need to check their blood sugar before meals and at bedtime. This is about four times a day, and sometimes more often. The care plan will tell you how often to check and what to do if the sugar is too high or too low. 
  2. With a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). This wearable device measures blood sugar every few minutes all day and night. It uses a thread-like sensor that’s put under the skin and secured in place. Sensors can stay in place for about a week before they have to be replaced. Because a CGM takes blood sugar measurements so often, it can help you and the care team do an even better job keeping blood sugar in the healthy range.

The care team also will monitor your child’s blood sugar using a blood test called glycosylated hemoglobin (hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c). The results will show how often your child’s blood glucose was in and out of the healthy range in the 2–3 months before the test. This helps the care team know how well the care plan is working for your child.

Taking Insulin

All kids and teens with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin so that glucose can get from their blood into their cells for energy. The care team will make an insulin schedule specifically for your child. 

Kids can get insulin:

  • By injection. Kids usually need 2 or more injections every day. An insulin needle is very tiny, and a shot isn’t very painful. The care team will teach you how to help your child cope with injections.
  • With an insulin pump. The pump injects insulin through a small tube that is placed just under the skin.

The care team will teach you and your child how to do the injections or use the pump.

Eating Healthy

Kids with type 1 diabetes need to find the right balance of food, insulin, and exercise to keep their blood sugars in the healthy range. It helps to understand how different foods affect your child’s blood sugar. The care team will teach you about healthy eating and how to:

  • Follow a meal plan. Your child will get a meal plan made just for them based on their age, activity level, and likes and dislikes. The plan will guide you on offering a variety of healthy foods, with the goal of keeping your child’s blood sugars in a healthy range.
  • Count carbs in meals and snacks. When you know the number of carbs your child eats and drinks, you can figure out how much insulin they need.

Getting Regular Physical Activity

Keeping active every day is a key part of diabetes treatment. Exercise strengthens your child’s muscles and bones, helps them feel good, and controls blood sugar levels. In fact, exercise makes insulin work better. Kids with type 1 diabetes can and should exercise.

Encourage your child to stay active, and set a goal of 60 minutes each day. Let them choose what they enjoy — whether that’s walking the dog, riding a bike, or playing team sports. For some kids, starting a new exercise habit might be hard at first. But if they enjoy the activity and feel good when they do it, they’ll find it easier to stick with it.

Putting It All Together

As you help your child manage type 1 diabetes, the detailed care plan and diabetes care team can keep you on track. Following the plan and staying in touch with the care team is the best way to keep your child healthy.

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date reviewed: September 2021