Type 1 Diabetes in Teens: Care Instructions

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Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease. It develops when your body can't make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps sugar (also called glucose) get inside your body's cells. Your cells use glucose for energy.

Without insulin, sugar and acids called ketones build up in your blood and can cause other health problems. These include diseases of the heart, large blood vessels, eyes, nerves, and kidneys.

This a busy time of your life, and diabetes might seem like too much to deal with. You might be getting to bed late, sleeping in, and eating at irregular meal times—all the things lots of people do at your age. You might even feel like ignoring your diabetes or pretending you don't have it.

But now is really the perfect time for you to start learning what you need to do to manage your diabetes. You're at a good age to start taking more responsibility for your own health. That includes paying attention to your blood sugar levels, eating healthy foods, and getting plenty of exercise.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you're having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Work with your doctor and your family to create a plan that'll help you take responsibility for your:
    • Medicine. Follow the insulin schedule that your doctor gives you.
    • Testing. Check and record your blood sugar as often as directed. These records can help your doctor see how you are doing and adjust your treatment if needed. Keep track of any symptoms you have, such as low blood sugar. And write down any changes in your activities, diet, or insulin use.
    • Eating. Eat healthy foods, including lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
    • Exercise. Get plenty of exercise every day. Go for a walk or jog, ride your bike, or play sports with friends.
    • Drinking. Teens may use alcohol for many reasons, but alcohol may cause low blood sugar and can mask symptoms of low blood sugar.
    • Smoking. Don't smoke. Smoking affects your blood vessels and can lead to diabetes problems earlier in life.
  • Always have glucagon with you. It's important that people close to you know the signs of low blood sugar and can give you glucagon if needed.
  • Work with your doctor to write up a sick-day plan for what to do on days when you are sick. Your blood sugar can go up or down, depending on your illness and whether you can keep food down. Call your doctor when you are sick, to see if you need to adjust your insulin.
  • Talk to your doctor, your parents, your friends, or a counselor if you feel afraid, sad, angry, or even guilty about having diabetes.
  • Find out if your school has rules about students carrying their own medicines, needles, and blood sugar meters. Many schools require that students get special permission or that supplies be kept at the school.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.
  • Your blood sugar is very high or very low.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your blood sugar stays outside the level your doctor set for you.
  • You have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.