According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the body’s ability to convert sugar into energy. Diabetes can be classified as either type 1 or type 2, and both types can affect children.
Juvenile diabetes, also known as type 1 diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is the type of diabetes that primarily affects children and adolescents. It is considered an autoimmune disorder and is caused when the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Without insulin, glucose in the blood cannot be converted into energy, causing blood sugar levels to rise. Children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes will typically require lifelong insulin injections or the use of an insulin pump.
Type 2 Diabetes
While type 1 diabetes is primarily based on family history, the cause of type 2 is heavily based on lifestyle. Children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have a difficult time using insulin properly, which can lead to insulin resistance. Overweight children are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, as their body cannot produce enough insulin necessary to convert sugar into energy, resulting in high blood glucose levels. Since obesity is a major risk factor of the development of type 2 diabetes, your child’s doctor may recommend a healthy diet and regular exercise to boost insulin sensitivity and promote a healthy weight. In some cases, medication or insulin injections may be necessary.
Symptoms of Type 1 & 2 Diabetes in Children
Symptoms associated with diabetes can start to show in only a few days to a week, warning signs include:
- Weight loss – Weight loss is more common in children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
- Blurred vision – When glucose levels in the blood get too high, fluid in the eyes can be affected, making it difficult to focus.
- Unexplained tiredness – High blood sugar levels can cause fatigue.
- Extreme hunger and thirst – Liquid is pulled from tissues in the body when blood sugar levels are too high, causing feelings of thirst.
- Frequent urination or bedwetting – Because the body is pulling fluid from tissues and there is increased thirst and fluid intake, your child may feel the need to urinate more than usual.
- Dark areas on the skin – Children with type 2 diabetes may develop dark spots on their skin, particularly in the armpits and around the neck.
Undiagnosed diabetes can lead to a serious condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). When the body cannot utilize the sugar in the blood, it’s forced to break down fat for fuel causing high levels of blood acids, known as ketones, to build up in the bloodstream. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition and can be diagnosed with a simple blood or urine test. Symptoms of DKA include many of the above symptoms in addition to:
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fruity smelling breath
- Dry mouth
Testing for Diabetes in Children
If your child is experiencing symptoms of diabetes, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider as soon as possible. A blood test to measure blood glucose levels or a urine test that detects the presence of ketones can be performed to check for diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, blood sugar levels 200 mg/dl or higher indicate diabetes. Even if your child shows mild symptoms, it may be beneficial to get tested as almost all children who develop type 2 diabetes have prediabetes. Children that have blood sugar readings that fall above the normal range but are still below 200 mg/dl are considered prediabetic.
Your child’s doctor will be able to recommend a treatment plan specific to your child’s needs. Depending on the type and severity, treatment options may include:
- Monitoring and counting carbohydrates
- A healthy diet
- Physical activity
- Blood sugar monitoring
- Insulin injections
Blood Sugar Monitoring
Children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes will be required to test their blood sugar multiple times a day or use a continuous glucose monitor to ensure their glucose levels fall within the recommended range. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is a small sensor placed under the skin that removes the need for regular finger pricks. CGM devices regularly measure glucose levels and send the data to your phone or smartwatch. Some monitors also alert you when your child’s blood sugar levels are too high or low, so that you can take the appropriate action. To see if your child is eligible for a continuous glucose monitor, fill out our quick form to check your child’s eligibility.
"Diabetes Overview" Diabetes Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment | ADA
"Diagnosis" | ADA
“Type 1 Diabetes in Children.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 30 Jan. 2020
“Type 2 Diabetes in Children.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Aug. 2020
"What is Diabetes?" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 June 2020
Information provided on the Aeroflow Diabetes blog is not intended as a substitute to medical advice or care. Aeroflow Diabetes recommends consulting a doctor if you are experiencing medical issues or concerns.