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Diabetes 101: Commonly Asked Questions
This blog was co-authored by Dr. Jake Kushner and Dr. Daniel DeSalvo.
Texas Children’s Diabetes and Endocrine Care Center is a national leader in the research and treatment of children with diabetes. We treat and educate patients and their families in self-management aspects of the disease. Our goal is help children, adolescents and young adults manage their diabetes so they can live long, healthy and active lives. A diagnosis of diabetes can be challenging for families as they learn to cope with many changes in their daily life. Misunderstandings and misperceptions about diabetes can create frustration for families facing the every day challenges of living with diabetes. The following scenario includes common questions families may ask:
Remind me again — there are multiple kinds of diabetes? Which one do kids get? Diabetes comes in multiple forms in children and adults. The most common form in children is type 1 diabetes, which is caused by a deficiency in the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in adults, but can also affect young adults and even some adolescents.
Are you born with diabetes? Type 1 diabetes (previously called juvenile diabetes) affects children and adults across a wide range of ages (from 6 months to 60 years), with the peak age of diagnosis around 8.
Did (s)he eat too much sugar? Type 1 diabetes doesn’t have anything to do with diet. It is a random autoimmune condition that is also influenced by complex genetics factors. The Texas Children’s Diabetes and Endocrine Care Center is active in Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet, an NIH funded network of researchers who explore ways to prevent, delay and reverse the progression of type 1 diabetes. If you have a relative with type 1 diabetes, you may be eligible to be screened for risk markers called autoantibodies. Potential benefits of being screened include: avoiding hospitalization, entering a diabetes prevention trial and helping researchers to closely monitor disease progression.
Does being overweight cause diabetes? Type 1 diabetes has nothing to do with weight gain. Type 2 diabetes is associated with weight gain and inactivity, but genetic factors also contribute.
Is there a pill for diabetes? Injected insulin is the main treatment for type 1 diabetes. There is no other therapy for most type 1 diabetes patients. Many people with type 2 diabetes can take pills for therapy. However, many others require injected medicines, including insulin.
Is diabetes rare in children? Sadly, no. Type 1 diabetes is the most common life-threatening, chronic illness in children who live in developed countries. About 1.25 million children and adults have type 1 diabetes.
Is it true children with diabetes can’t exercise? No! We encourage exercise as part of our therapeutic plan for type 1 diabetes, as it helps blood sugar control.
Do children with diabetes need to eat a “diabetic" diet? Yes and no. Food has dramatic impact on type 1 diabetes. Adults with type 1 diabetes are often extremely careful about the kinds of carbohydrates they eat and the amounts. We hope to teach children and adolescents these lessons so they continue to use them as young adults. But that doesn’t mean they have to live a life of total restriction.
Type 1 is the “brittle" kind, right? We don’t use the term “brittle” for type 1 diabetes. There is some truth to the notion that most people with type 1 diabetes are at great risk for fluctuating blood sugars (which was once known as “brittle”). Advanced type 1 diabetes care is directed at minimizing these variations in blood sugar through technologies to monitor blood glucose levels (continuous glucose monitors or CGMs), sophisticated tools to administer insulin (pumps), regular exercise, limiting exposure to refined carbohydrates, behavioral and mental health support and fostering a culture of lifelong learning.
Can a child outgrow type 1 diabetes? Sadly no, diabetes is not something children can outgrow.
Is a cure for diabetes (type 1 or type 2) coming? Hopefully someday, but probably not anytime soon. However, I am confident the care for people with diabetes will get better and better over the coming years. New technologies and therapies will become available that will reduce the burden of living with diabetes. We intend to be a part of the solution and are eager to partner with our patients, families and the greater community to bring these advances to patients as soon as possible.
Can people with diabetes still have a family, career and a full life? YES! Many adults who were diagnosed with diabetes as children are able to thrive, despite the ongoing challenges of living with diabetes. They have become professional athletes, business leaders, important government figures, community leaders and parents. Indeed, there is something special about people who learn to live with type 1 diabetes, as they are often highly focused in their personal and professional lives and end up achieving amazing things as adults.
For more information about Texas Children’s Diabetes and Endocrine Care Center, click here.