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Diabetes in Children: Preventing High Blood Sugar


High blood sugar, also called hyperglycemia, occurs when the sugar (glucose) level in the blood rises above normal. For a person who has diabetes, high blood sugar may be caused by missed diabetes medicine or insulin injection, eating too much, skipping physical activity, or illness or stress. The rapid growth during the teen years can also make it harder to keep your child's blood sugar levels within a target range.

Unlike low blood sugar, high blood sugar usually develops slowly over a period of hours or days. But it can also develop quickly (in just a few hours) if you eat a large meal or miss an insulin dose. Blood sugar levels just above the target range may make a person feel tired and thirsty. If your child's blood sugar level stays higher than normal, his or her body will adjust to that level. Over time, high blood sugar damages the eyes, heart, kidneys, blood vessels, and nerves. If your child's blood sugar continues to rise, his or her kidneys will increase the amount of urine produced and your child can become dehydrated. If your child becomes severely dehydrated, he or she can go into a coma and possibly die.

Unless you or your child fails to notice the symptoms, you usually have time to treat high blood sugar so that it doesn't become an emergency situation. Three steps can help you prevent high blood sugar problems:

  • Test your child's blood sugar often, especially during illnesses or when he or she is not following a normal routine. A child may not have symptoms of high blood sugar, which are fatigue and increased thirst and urination.
  • Notify the doctor if your child has frequent high blood sugar levels or the blood sugar level is consistently staying above the target range. The medicine or insulin dosage may need to be adjusted or changed.
  • Encourage your child to drink extra water or noncaffeinated, sugar-free drinks to prevent dehydration.

How To

The best ways to prevent a high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) emergency are to check blood sugar levels often, be prepared for emergencies, treat high blood sugar promptly, treat infections right away, and make sure your child gets plenty of sugar-free liquids.

Treat infections early

Untreated infections, such as urinary tract infections and skin infections, can increase your child's risk of a high blood sugar emergency.

Be prepared

  • Know the symptoms of high blood sugar. Post them in a place where you and your child can see them often, such as on your refrigerator door. Add any symptoms your child has had that are not on the list. Make sure other people know the symptoms and what to do in an emergency. Symptoms of high blood sugar include increased thirst, increased urination, and fatigue.
  • Check your child's blood sugar at home often, especially when your child is sick or not following his or her normal routine. Testing your child's blood sugar at home will help you know when it is high, even if your child doesn't notice symptoms.
  • Teach others involved in your child's care how to check blood sugar. Keep instructions for using the blood sugar meter with the meter so someone else could test your child's blood sugar if needed.
  • Have your child wear medical identification, such as a medical alert bracelet, at all times. This is very important in case your child is too sick or injured to speak.
  • If your child is taking insulin, do a test for ketones, especially if your child's blood sugar is higher than 300 mg/dL.
  • Develop a plan. Usually people who take insulin need to take extra fast-acting insulin when their blood sugar levels are high. Talk with your child's doctor about how much the child needs to take, depending on his or her blood sugar level (sliding scale).
  • Give your child's medicines as prescribed. Don't skip the medicines for diabetes or insulin injections without first talking with your doctor.

Treat high blood sugar early

The best way to prevent high blood sugar emergencies is to treat high blood sugar as soon as your child has symptoms or when his or her blood sugar is significantly above the target range (200 mg/dL or higher).

  • Follow the steps for dealing with high blood sugar. Post the steps in a convenient place at home. Make sure other people know what to do if your child is unable to treat high blood sugar.
  • Keep a record. Write down your child's symptoms and how you treated them, and take the record with you when you visit your child's doctor. Use a blood sugar record (What is a PDF document?).
  • Let your child's doctor know if your child is having high blood sugar problems. The medicine for diabetes may need to be adjusted or changed. If your child is taking insulin, the dose may need to be increased.

Offer plenty of liquids

If your child's blood sugar levels are above his or her target range, offer extra liquids to replace the fluids lost through the kidneys. Water and sugar-free drinks are best. Avoid caffeinated drinks, regular soda pop, fruit juice, and other liquids that contain a lot of sugar.


By Healthwise Staff
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Stephen LaFranchi, MD - Pediatrics, Pediatric Endocrinology
Last Revised August 15, 2013

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