Dr. Nebesio Offers Suggestions to Teens With Diabetes

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The teenage years are when parents gradually hand over the reigns of responsibility to their children and allow them to enjoy more freedom. It’s a big transition for most parents, but especially for parents of children with Type 1 diabetes. Up until this point, the parents have closely supervised his or her care: sticking to a schedule of routine blood sugar checks, counting carbohydrates at mealtimes and using all of that information to calculate the appropriate dose of insulin. This can be a lot of responsibility for a young adolescent to take on. The handoff of insulin management from parent to child is a critical point in diabetes care, setting up teenagers for a lifetime of managing their own care. At this time in their lives, teens are looking for independence, but may not be prepared for this responsibility. How can families make it through the transition period stress free?

Dr. Todd Nebesio is a pediatric endocrinologist for Riley at IU Health. He treats children of all ages with Type 1 diabetes and knows how important it is to successfully navigate the adolescent stage of treatment. He said it is important for parents to work together with their children to manage their blood sugars and insulin doses. “Diabetes can cause dangerous symptoms, if it’s not managed well,” Dr. Nebesio said. “Skipping insulin injections can lead to severe problems or even a life-threatening complication called ketoacidosis caused by high levels of poisonous blood acids called ketones. Too much insulin at times can lead to loss of consciousness and seizures.” With proper management, there is no reason to ever experience these scary side effects.

Dr. Nebesio suggests to teens:

  • Check your blood sugar at least four times per day, and always rotate your insulin injection sites.
  • Establish good dietary habits, and learn how to accurately count carbohydrates in order to administer the correct amount of insulin.
  • Don’t wait for the next appointment with the doctor to adjust your insulin doses. Review blood sugars on a regular basis, and make frequent insulin dose adjustments to keep the blood sugars within the target range as much as possible.
  • Always wear a diabetic ID bracelet, which will alert caregivers and medical personnel to check for relevant concerns in the event of an emergency.

There’s help for young patients taking on more of their own care. Starting at 15 to 16 years of age, Riley at IU Health endocrinologists begin to transition their patients to the hospital’s adolescent medicine diabetes program. The program is targeted toward teens and young adults, taking into account all the changes that take place during those years as patients navigate puberty, peer pressure, and take more responsibility for their own health. It is designed to empower adolescents with diabetes to be the leaders in their medical management. Each teen is connected with a wide range of Riley at IU Health experts to expand their focus to overall health and wellness strategies. Learn more about the Diabetes & Endocrinology department.

“My biggest piece of advice for teenagers with diabetes is to be aggressive and take ownership of your care,” Dr. Nebesio said. “Don’t let diabetes drive you. You have to drive it.”

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