When your child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it can feel like you have hundreds if not thousands of questions. The good news is that doctors have heard most of them before and can easily provide answers that will ease your mind. Here, doctors give the FAQs they hear most and share their responses.

Q: What caused my child to get type 1 diabetes?

A: “As a physician and type 1 diabetic myself, I understand the fears and concerns of parents for their newly-diagnosed children. Most people’s first question is what caused the diabetes in the first place. The truth is we don’t know for sure. Type 1 diabetes is considered an auto-immune disease where our immune system mistakenly begins attacking the insulin-producing (beta) cells of our pancreas. How could our immune system get so mixed up? One common theory is that the outer shell of a specific common cold virus looks very similar to the shell surrounding our beta cells in the pancreas. As our body eradicates this cold virus, our immune system may erroneously think our pancreatic beta cells must be more bad guys. From that time, it could take several weeks or even months before we begin developing the typical symptoms of diabetes. It wasn’t the basket of Halloween candy or the extra dessert — instead, it may have been a simple case of mistaken identity.”

Durant Abernethy, M.D., pediatrics physician at High Country Health Care in Frisco, Colo.

Q: As a parent, did I do anything to cause the diabetes?

A: “No! Parents can feel a lot of guilt if their child develops diabetes, and it’s important for you to realize and understand that you did not do anything to cause this disease. You are, however, one of the most important resources for helping prevent your children from developing some of the complications from diabetes. Learning how to manage this challenging disease and working with your children and healthcare team can help your children live a healthier life.”

–Cydney Fenton, M.D., director of pediatric endocrinology at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio

Q: Will my child ever be able to eat sweets again?

A: “Yes, current therapies for type 1 diabetes management have allowed children to have more flexibility with what foods they can consume and the timing of their meals. Sweets contain carbohydrates that cause a rise in blood sugar, and adjustments in treatment are often necessary to account for them. When sugar is eaten in the absence of other food, blood sugar rises very quickly — which is why these items are often used to treat low blood sugars. If sugar is eaten in combination with other foods, especially those containing fat and protein, this rise in blood sugar can be more gradual. A child with type 1 diabetes ideally should eat a healthy diet, as should everyone else. Because of the low nutritional value of most high-sugar foods, it is not a good idea for most kids to substitute a high-sugar treat for a serving of a complex carbohydrate like bread, pasta or vegetables.”

–Mala Puri, M.D., associate medical director of the cardiovascular and metabolic delivery unit for Quintiles in Durham, N.C.

Q: How can we keep our child healthy while he or she is at school?

A: “The American Diabetes Association is leading a nationwide effort — called Safe at School — to help schools be prepared to meet the needs of students who have diabetes and to help parents feel confident that their child will be appropriately cared for when at school. Parents should also proactively involve caregivers and school personnel in their child’s diabetes care by teaching them about insulin administration. Diabetes educators near you may be available to help lead school-based discussions with principals, teachers and school staff about insulin therapy. They can talk about the symptoms of low and high blood sugar and measures to take in case of an emergency.”

–Larry Hirsch, M.D., worldwide vice president of medical affairs at BD Medical in New York City

Q: Will my child have to take insulin shots forever?

A: “There are 2 types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, in which the body is unable to produce insulin, and type 2 diabetes, in which the body does produce insulin, but the target tissues are not as responsive to the amount of insulin produced. In type 1 diabetes, the only treatment is to replace the insulin that the body is not making. Currently, this is achieved either by injections or with an insulin pump. In the early stages of diabetes, once therapy is started, the child can often undergo a “honeymoon period” in which the pancreas is able to make additional insulin; insulin needs reduce dramatically and sometimes cease all together. The honeymoon period is variable, lasting from weeks to months to sometimes years. Parents often mistake this honeymoon period for their child being cured of diabetes, but this is not the case. With time, this honeymoon goes away, and insulin needs increase again. The diagnosis will always be there. That being said, studies are being done to see if new drugs would be able to prolong the honeymoon period. Many people are dedicated to this area of diabetes research and are searching for the cure.”

–Mala Puri, M.D., associate medical director of the cardiovascular and metabolic delivery unit for Quintiles in Durham, N.C.

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.

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