As a parent, recognizing the signs and symptoms of diabetes in your child is important. Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a serious disease that can cause long-term health problems if it is not treated. There are two types of diabetes in children: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune response, while type 2 diabetes is usually caused by lifestyle choices. If you are worried that your child may have diabetes, take them to a doctor or health care professional right away. Continue reading to learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for diabetes in children.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes your blood sugar called glucose. The cells in your body use glucose to produce energy and to do this, your cells need the hormone insulin to take it in. When your body stops producing or can’t utilize insulin properly, the glucose then builds up in your blood and can cause a number of medical problems including high blood pressure, nerve damage, kidney damage, and eye damage.
Diabetes is actually a group of diseases and there are three types of it. Below we will examine each type individually.
Type 1 diabetes is when the body stops producing insulin altogether. The reason this happens is your body produces an autoimmune system that attacks the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas until they stop producing any insulin. This type of diabetes usually develops in children and young adults, but can happen at any age. For these reasons, it is also called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. The cause is unknown; however, it is believed that genetic and environmental factors may play a role and it is not preventable.
Type 2 diabetes is when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the cells do not properly use it. When you have type 2 diabetes, your cells develop insulin resistance which means they don’t use insulin properly and have trouble metabolizing the glucose in your bloodstream which causes excess sugar levels. This type of diabetes usually develops in adults, which is why it is also known as adult-onset diabetes, but children and young adults are now developing this condition at an alarming rate due to poor diet and sedentary lifestyle choices. Type 2 diabetes is usually preventable through maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly although there can be a genetic factor too.
Gestational diabetes is when you develop diabetes during pregnancy. It occurs when your kidneys are unable to produce enough insulin to handle the amount of glucose in the blood that builds due to the hormones of being pregnant. This type of diabetes usually goes away after your baby is born, but it can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes for both you and your child postpartum.
For our purposes, we will only focus on type 1 and type 2 diabetes as these are the only two that can affect children.
What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children?
Type 1 diabetes can develop quickly, sometimes over the course of a few weeks so it is important to recognize them before any major complications occur. In general, the most common type 1 diabetes symptoms are:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination and even bedwetting in a toilet-trained child
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss despite eating a lot
- Fatigue or tiredness for no reason
- Fruity-smelling breath
If any of these symptoms are present in your child you should take them to a pediatrician or health care provider immediately.
What are the causes of type 1 diabetes in children?
It is unknown what causes type 1 diabetes to develop in children, but it is believed that both genetic and environmental factors play a role. The following are some of the possible causes:
If you have a family history of type 1 diabetes, your child has a greater chance of developing it too.
Viruses have been linked to the development of type 1 diabetes in children. The most common viruses linked to this condition are the coxsackie B virus, mumps, rotavirus, and cytomegalovirus. Other environmental factors may also play a role but more research is necessary.
What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children?
The symptoms or signs of type 2 diabetes in children are very similar to those in adults and even overlap with the symptoms of type 1 diabetes. The most common symptoms for children with type 2 diabetes in children are:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss
- Dark spots on the skin, especially the armpits and neck
- Blurry vision
What are the causes for type 2 diabetes in children?
Just like with type 1 diabetes, the exact cause for type 2 diabetes in children is unknown. However, it is believed that a combination of genetic and environmental factors are also responsible. The following are some of the possible causes:
If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, your child has a greater chance of developing it too.
Just like with type 1 diabetes, viruses have been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes in children. Obesity and inactivity are common factors for those who suffer from type 2 diabetes, even children. A poor diet also can contribute to obesity as well.
What are the risk factors for diabetes in children?
We will analyze the risk factors for type 1 and type 2 diabetes by type.
Type 1 diabetes risk factors
- Family history can play a role as people with an immediate family member(s) with type 1 diabetes are more likely to have it
- Genetics can also be a factor as particular genes can indicate a risk of type 1 diabetes
- Ethnicity can also play a factor as white children are more likely to have type 1 diabetes compared to children of other ethnicities
- Exposure to certain viruses can also cause diabetes
Type 2 diabetes risk factors
- Weight can be an indicator for type 2 diabetes as people who are obese are more likely to become insulin resistant
- Inactivity or lack of physical activities also puts your child at risk for type 2 diabetes because when your child exercises they use glucose for energy which will help maintain their blood sugar levels in the right range
- Family history is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes
- Ethnicity can be a risk factor for type 2 because if you are Latino, African American, Native American, or Asian American you are at a higher risk of developing the condition
- Age plays an important factor because most children who develop type 2 diabetes do so in their teens
- Sex is a risk factor as girls are more likely to have it than boys
- Birthweight is important as the smaller you were when you are born makes you more at risk
- Gestational diabetes in the mother during pregnancy also puts your child at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes
- Premature babies have a better chance of developing type 2 diabetes
What are the treatment options for diabetes in children?
The treatment options will depend on the type of diabetes your child has been diagnosed with. For both types of diabetes regular exercise and a healthy diet are recommended to manage blood glucose levels. Frequent blood sugar monitoring is also necessary to ensure there are no drastic dips or spikes. With type 1 diabetes, insulin treatment is necessary through insulin injections or an insulin pump; however, this may not be the case for type 2 diabetes although it is an option. For type 2 diabetes, if the child is obese weight loss is an option and in extreme cases, weight loss surgery may be necessary.
Diabetes is a chronic disorder that anyone can develop, even children. There are three types of diabetes but type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the two types of diabetes that can affect children. With type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin and with type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable while type 2 diabetes usually can be prevented. There are some similar symptoms between the two types although not all are the same. Treatment options can also vary, so please talk to your child’s doctor to determine the right diabetes treatment plan. If you believe your child may be suffering from diabetes please seek medical care immediately. Should you have any other questions please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.
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Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Erik Rivera and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
Owner, entrepreneur, and consumer health enthusiast.