Diabetes in children and teenagers


Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) is a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition characterized by the body losing its ability to produce insulin or beginning to produce or use insulin less efficiently.

How diabetes caused in children

The actual causes of the diabetic condition are little understood, in both children and adults. It is widely speculated that diabetes occurred when inherited genetic characteristics are triggered by environmental factors such as diet or exercise.


The common type of diabetes in children and teens was type 1. It was called juvenile diabetes. With Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose, or sugar, get into your cells to give them energy. Without insulin, too much sugar stays in the blood.

Now younger people are also getting type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes. But now it is becoming more common in children and teens, due to more obesity. With Type 2 diabetes, the body does not make or use insulin well.

Children have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes if they are overweight or have obesity, have a family history of diabetes, or are not active. Children who are African American, Hispanic, Native American/Alaska Native, Asian American, or Pacific Islander also have a higher risk.

To lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in children

  • Have them maintain a healthy weight
  • Be sure they are physically active
  • Have them eat smaller portions of healthy foods
  • Limit time with the TV, computer, and video

Children and teens with type 1 diabetes may need to take insulin. Type 2 diabetes may be controlled with diet and exercise. If not, patients will need to take oral diabetes medicines or insulin. A blood test called the A1C can check on how blood sugar levels behave.


The most common symptoms of type 1 diabetes among children and adolescents include:

  • increased thirst and urination
  • hunger
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • the fruity smell on the breath


Some may also experience an increase in hunger and blurred vision. Girls might develop a yeast infection. Weight loss is often a common symptom before diagnosis.

Diabetes urge people to be aware of “4 Ts” in children:

  • Toilet: Using the bathroom frequently, infants having heavier nappies or bedwetting from a previously dry child
  • Thirsty: Drinking more fluids than usual but being unable to quench the thirst
  • Tired: Feeling more tired than usual
  • Thinner: Losing weight

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • urinating more often, especially at night
  • increased thirst
  • tiredness
  • unexplained weight loss
  • itching around the genitals, possibly with a yeast infection
  • slow healing of cuts or wounds
  • blurred vision, as the eye’s lens becomes dry

What can the parents of children with diabetes do?

Keeping a strict eye on the blood glucose levels of your child, avoiding lows and highs, can be a large part of being a parent of a child with diabetes. Parents must be aware that children with diabetes have diet restrictions, and that their activity levels need to be closely monitored.

Initially, and throughout the lifetime of the disease, diabetes can be a serious strain. Patients and their families alike should know that support is available.

Initially, the procedure for management and treatment of the disease can seem very complicated.

Understanding how the disease affects your child, being adaptable and patient, are essential to successfully manage diabetes.

Some things to bear in mind include:

  • You may have to deliver insulin injections at first, and even if you do not need to then you should know how to. There are two major delivery sites, above the abdomen and in the thigh, but your healthcare team will elaborate.
  • You should become familiar with the symptoms of low blood glucose, and also diabetic ketoacidosis. As well as recognizing these conditions, you should know what to do if they occur.
  • Monitor your child’s blood sugar levels, and as soon as they are old enough teach them how to do this. Similarly, as children become older they need to learn how to administer their own insulin injections.
  • Make sure that people know your son or daughter is diabetic, and that they also know what to do if the symptoms of low blood glucose manifest themselves.



Treatment for type 1 diabetes is lifelong and includes blood sugar monitoring, insulin therapy, healthy eating and regular exercise — even for kids. As your child grows and changes, so will his or her diabetes treatment plan.

If managing your child’s diabetes seems overwhelming, take it one day at a time. Some days you’ll manage your child’s blood sugar perfectly and on other days, it may seem as if nothing works well. Don’t forget that you’re not alone.

You’ll work closely with your child’s diabetes treatment team — doctor, diabetes educator and dietitian — to keep your child’s blood sugar level as close to normal as possible.

Type 1 diabetes is a serious disease. Helping your child follow his or her diabetes treatment plan takes round-the-clock commitment and will initially require some significant lifestyle changes. But your efforts are worthwhile. Careful management of diabetes can reduce your child’s risk of serious — even life-threatening — complications.

Above all, stay positive. The habits you teach your child today will help him or her enjoy an active and healthy life with type 1 diabetes.


Since, diabetes is harder to diagnosis and treats in children, the outcomes for children with type 2 diabetes are not easy to predict. Furthermore, Type 2 diabetes in young people is a relatively new issue in medicine, and research into its causes, outcomes, and treatment strategies is still ongoing. Future studies are needed to analyse the long-term consequences of having type 2 diabetes in youth.

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