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Expert care for your child’s unique needs
Pediatric diabetes is a disease where your child’s blood sugar (also called glucose) is too high.
Sugar comes from the food we eat and is our main source of energy. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps get the sugar into our cells to make that energy. If your child’s body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin well, it isn’t able to get to the cells and causes too much sugar in the blood. Too much sugar in the blood can cause diabetes.
There are two types of diabetes:
The body does not make insulin because the the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that create it. Children with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children or young adults and tends to develop rapidly over several weeks. While there is no cure, it can be managed.
Caused when your child’s body does not make or use insulin well (insulin resistance). While most people with type 2 diabetes are diagnosed as adults, children can develop type 2 diabetes, too. Management varies and includes nutrition and exercise therapy along with medications, including insulin.
Diagnosis and treatments
Could my child have diabetes?
While type 1 diabetes is much more common in children, the symptoms for both are similar and can include:
Unexplained weight loss
Nausea and vomiting
Fatigue and weakness
Poor wound healing
The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is complex and not fully known, but genetics do play a role. Children with Type 1 diabetes simply do not produce insulin. There are several risk factors that could apply including:
Family history. Having a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes slightly increases the risk.
Genetics. Certain genes indicate an increased risk of type 1 diabetes.
Race. Type 1 diabetes is more common among white children than other races.
Family history, genetics and environmental factors play important roles in type 2 diabetes in children. Inactivity and excess fat, especially around the belly, also seems to be an important factor. Diabetes screening is recommended for children who:
Have started puberty
Are 10 years old or older and have at least one other risk factor for type 2 diabetes, including:
Family history of type 2 diabetes
Being a non-white race
Having signs of insulin resistance, such as darkened skin patches on the neck or armpits
There are several tests that can be used to diagnose diabetes in children. If these results are abnormal, they will refer your child for further testing to confirm the diagnosis and type of diabetes your child has.
Finger-prick blood test checks your child’s sugar levels
Urine test looks for sugar in the urine
Usually, when a child is diagnosed with diabetes, they will be admitted to the American Family Children’s Hospital. The goals of this stay are to provide care needed to make your child feel better, safely start medications and teach you and your child about the skills and information you need to safely return to your normal routine while caring for diabetes.
We will help you and your child:
Understand diabetes and how it affects health
Use a meter to check blood sugar levels at home
Count grams of carbs and find foods that contain good carbohydrates
Calculate an insulin dose using carbs and a correction scale for high blood sugar
Give an insulin injection
Understand the signs/symptoms of low and high blood sugar and how to treat
Know what needs to be done differently when they are sick
Learn what ketones are and how to check them
Create a kit containing:
Blood sugar monitor, test strips, lancets
Fast-acting sugar to treat lows
Protein or carbohydrate snacks, such as cheese and crackers to stabilize blood sugar
We also recommend including:
Current insulin doses
How to reach our clinic in an emergency — your child should carry this at all times
Treatment for pediatric diabetes depends on the type.
Meet our team
Experts who care
UW Health Kids diabetes specialists provide care for young patients with diabetes with a goal to support their health by developing an individualized management plan that includes nutrition, activity and medication.
Your child’s care is our top priority and we understand the unique needs they have. Your child’s team will include:
Doctors and nurse practitioners
How to find us
Patient and support services
There are many resources available to you and your family
If your child has been diagnosed with diabetes, it can feel overwhelming.
Resources from past sessions
The following expert segments records are from the 2021 session:
Segment 1: Mental Health and Diabetes with Dr. Bill Taft (16 minutes)
Segment 2: Planning Ahead with Dr. Ellen Connor (22 minutes)
Segment 3: Eating for Health with Drs. Rachel Fenske and Grace Dawkins (18 minutes)
Mental health resources (pdf)
Grocery list (pdf)
All patients can explore cost savings programs that they might be eligible for at www.getinsulin.org. The site will request personal information, but will not store it unless you give permission. For commercially insured or uninsured patients, insulin manufacturers might offer discount programs.
Patients can reach out to: