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:

  • Increased thirst

  • Increased hunger

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Frequent urination

  • Blurry vision

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Fruity breath

  • 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:

  • Are overweight

  • Are obese

  • 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

    • Insulin

    • Fast-acting sugar to treat lows

    • Glucagon

    • Ketostix 

    • Protein or carbohydrate snacks, such as cheese and crackers to stabilize blood sugar

We also recommend including: 

  • Our sick day plan

  • 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. 

Kids with type 1 diabetes need to:

Treatment for type 2 diabetes is lifelong and will follow your child into adulthood. It includes:

Smiling child with sign reading UW Health Kids
UW Health Kids
Our pediatric experts have served the special needs of children for more than 100 years. We focus on each child’s unique needs and offer social and emotional support to help you and your child face even the most complex condition. Our long history includes the creation of medical advances that save lives around the world. Together, we get your child back to health and enjoying being a kid.

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

  • Nurses

  • Exercise physiologists

  • Registered dietitians

  • Health psychologist

  • Pharmacy

  • Social workers

Our providers


How to find us

Patient and support services

Resources for you and your family



Resources from past sessions

The following expert segments records are from the 2021 session:


Additional resources

Financial resources

This program is designed to help patients who are having problems obtaining prescribed medications. You will need to contact the program direct at (608) 262-6443 to start the application process.

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:

For helping finding health insurance, visit WisCovered

Health Facts for You