Can Children Get Diabetes?

By Lewis, Sarah, PharmD

The most common form of diabetes in children is type 1 diabetes. However, more recently, doctors are seeing children with type 2 diabetes-a disease predominantly seen in overweight adults. Health experts now caution that kids who are overweight, have poor eating habits, and get little exercise can develop type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes in Children

In type 1 diabetes, the cells in your child’s pancreas that normally make insulin are destroyed. Our bodies require insulin to turn the sugar from food into energy. If your child can’t make insulin, sugar builds up in your child’s blood causing high blood sugar.

In type 2 diabetes, your child’s pancreas can still make insulin, but not enough of it to control blood sugar. Your child’s cells and tissues also don’t respond to insulin the way they should. The result is that your child’s body can’t use blood sugar effectively and he or she develops high blood sugar.

If your child has uncontrolled high blood sugar, it can cause serious health problems later in life, including:

  • Eye problems

  • Blindness

  • Kidney problems

  • Kidney failure

  • Heart problems

  • Nerve problems

How Did My Child Get Diabetes?

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how children get either type of diabetes. They think type 1 diabetes involves an out of control immune system that attacks your child’s own cells as if they were foreign invaders. In addition, some environmental factors, such as a virus, probably triggers the immune system. There’s no way you could have prevented type 1 diabetes.

For type 2 diabetes, scientists know that it tends to run in families and it’s very closely linked to obesity. In many cases, you can prevent type 2 diabetes in your child with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

Here are some symptoms of diabetes to watch for in your child:

  • Drinks excessively

  • Goes to the bathroom constantly

  • Eats more often or in larger amounts

  • Loses weight unexpectedly

  • Tires easily and appears weak

  • Complains about their vision (trouble reading or seeing the TV)

  • Acts short tempered or moody

  • Has slow healing wounds

  • Complains about weird sensations in his or her hands or feet

Treating Your Child’s Diabetes

The goal of diabetes treatment is keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. If your child has type 1 diabetes, your child must use insulin injections. For type 2 diabetes, your child may use oral medicines or insulin injections. Your child will also need to use a glucometer to check his or her blood sugar levels. Checking helps you and your child see how different foods and activities affect blood sugar levels. It also tells you if your child’s treatment needs to be adjusted.

How You Can Help Your Child

If your child has diabetes, it’s a lifelong disease. Depending on your child’s age, he or she may not understand what’s happening. Your child may feel:

  • Afraid of dying

  • Guilty

  • Hostility toward his or her parents

  • That he or she is being punished

You can help your child gain confidence and independence. It takes a team to succeed – don't try to go it alone! The doctor will likely schedule a visit with the diabetic nurse counselor or a certified diabetes educator. These professionals have loads of useful information and valuable experience to share. At an appropriate age, allow the child to care for themself as much as possible. Try to avoid overprotecting him or her and offer encouragement.

For type 2 diabetes, you need to set some healthy guidelines for your child:

  • Control food portions

  • Cut back on TV time

  • Don’t buy junk food

  • Eat from a plate at the table

  • Limit or eliminate soda

  • Make sure your child exercises

  • Set a good example

Stay optimistic. Diabetes is a disease that can be controlled with medications and lifestyle changes. Talk with your child’s doctor about any concerns you may have about the treatment plan. Special diabetes educators for children are also great resources for understanding the disease and your child’s treatment choices.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Dec. 15, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2013 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Your Guide to Diabetes