Diabetes is a condition that affects how your child’s body processes sugar. At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, our specialists provide comprehensive care for children and adolescents with diabetes.
There are several types of diabetes mellitus (the type of diabetes that affects blood sugar):
- Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make insulin (a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar).
- Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or respond to it the way it’s supposed to (insulin resistance).
- Atypical diabetes is diabetes that doesn’t have the same characteristics as Type 1 or Type 2. One kind of atypical diabetes, monogenic diabetes, occurs because of a mutation (change) in one gene.
- Secondary diabetes occurs when the body does not process insulin well because of another medical condition, such as cystic fibrosis or pancreatitis.
Treatment for Diabetes in Children and Teens
Our specialists create targeted, personalized treatment plans. We have specific training in diabetes care, meaning we can offer your child advanced options that lead to the best outcomes. Our goal is to help children and teens with diabetes stay as healthy as possible and maintain a high quality of life.
Pediatric diabetes treatment might include:
The primary treatment for Type 1 diabetes is insulin. Children with Type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin, so their bodies need to get it another way. Some teens with Type 2 diabetes may also need insulin. Insulin is also the main treatment for children with atypical diabetes such as monogenic diabetes and secondary diabetes such as cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.
Your child may use:
We teach most of our children and their families how to give insulin using an insulin pen, which uses a cartridge filled with insulin. Sometimes, your child may need to receive insulin through a syringe and needle.
Before the injection, children may need to do a finger prick test to check blood sugar levels. Your child’s care team gives instructions about how to interpret blood sugar levels to determine when your child needs insulin. Blood sugar levels can vary based on:
- How much and what your child eats
- How much and when your child exercises
- Where and when your child injects insulin
Insulin pumps are small devices that stay attached to your child’s body. Some pumps have a small, hollow tube (catheter) that attaches to your child’s body. The actual device looks like a cell phone your child can put in a pocket or wear on a belt. There is also a tubeless pump that can be attached on the belly, back, arm or thigh. Insulin pumps deliver insulin:
- In small, continuous doses (basal)
- In one dose near mealtime or to control blood sugar changes (bolus)
Children and teens who use insulin pumps still need to check their blood sugar regularly. Pumps need to be programmed to deliver insulin based on individualized needs. Some children and teens may choose to use an insulin pump along with a continuous glucose monitor.
Continuous glucose monitors
A continuous glucose monitors (CGM) keeps track of your child’s blood sugar level through a small sensor placed under the skin, usually on the arm or belly. The CGM sends data to a smartphone or tablet every five minutes, minimizing the need for finger pricks.
Your child can use a CGM along with insulin injections or an insulin pump. Many people find that CGMs offer benefits of:
- Better blood sugar management
- Fewer blood sugar emergencies
- Fewer finger pricks
A CGM can help people living with diabetes better understand how diet, exercise and other factors affect their blood sugar throughout the day. Having continuous data decreases the need for multiple finger pricks to check blood sugar throughout the day. Although CGMs are highly accurate, to be as safe as possible, your child may still need to confirm a CGM reading with a finger prick test before taking insulin.
Some children may benefit from diabetes medications other than insulin. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three medicines for young people with Type 2 diabetes:
Your child’s provider will give instructions for when and how to take the medications. Typically, adolescents take medications along with making lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise to lower their blood sugar.
Diet and Exercise
Diet and exercise are important for managing all types of diabetes. Avoiding sugary beverages (including juice and sports beverages), consuming appropriate portions sizes and staying physically active will help to control blood sugar.
A dietitian may teach your child how to count carbohydrates (carbs). Carbohydrates are the macronutrients often found in foods like pasta, bread or potatoes. Your body converts carbohydrates you eat into glucose (sugar) to fuel your body and increase your energy levels.
Children and teens with diabetes may need to keep track of how many carbs they eat to help keep their blood sugar at a healthy level. A dietitian can provide personalized instructions for how many carbs to eat based on:
- Activity levels
- Body size
- How carbs affect other medicines, such as insulin
Access to Clinical Trials
Many Children’s Hospital doctors are also researchers looking for new and better ways to treat diabetes. For example, we have a research team who studies how pancreatic stem cell replacement may cure Type 1 diabetes.
Children who come to CHLA have access to promising new therapies through clinical trials. Learn more about endocrinology research.
Comprehensive Pediatric Diabetes Care
Managing diabetes can be time-consuming and overwhelming. The providers in our Diabetes Program arm your family with all the necessary tools to live a high quality of life with diabetes.
Our certified diabetes educators provide robust education and 24/7 access to a team of specialized experts. Learn more about our Diabetes Program.