June 9, 2021

Diabetes in Children | Symptoms, Types, & Management

If you’re a parent, the possibility of your child having diabetes can be alarming, but there’s no need to panic. In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know, from symptoms to look out for to steps you

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Home / Living with Diabetes / Diabetes in Children | Symptoms, Types, & Management

Diabetes can affect anyone’s life – even children. According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020, approximately 210,000 U.S. residents under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with this disease. And rates of type 2 diabetes (once a rarity among young people) have been on the rise as of late. 

If you’re a parent, the possibility of your child having diabetes can be alarming, but there’s no need to panic. In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know, from symptoms to look out for to steps you can take to help treat diabetes in children. 

Types of Diabetes in Children 

As is the case for any group, there are two primary types of diabetes children can be diagnosed with – type 1 and type 2 diabetes. However, there are some age-related factors that parents and guardians should be aware of while trying to determine whether or not their child has this disease. 

Type 1 Diabetes 

Type 1 diabetes can become apparent at any stage in life, but it is most often diagnosed in children and teens. In fact, about 85 percent of people with this type of diabetes were diagnosed under the age of 20. Type 1 is still the most typical form of diabetes in young people, as well. 

Type 2 Diabetes 

Though it is the most common form of diabetes in the world, type 2 diabetes was not usually diagnosed in children in the past. At one point, the disease was even known as “adult onset diabetes!” Due to increasing child obesity rates, however, a higher number of children have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in recent years. 

What Causes Diabetes? 

Type 1 diabetes is normally an autoimmune disorder. When a person has type 1 diabetes, their immune system misidentifies islet cells in their pancreas as a threat and goes on the offensive. These cells are responsible for producing insulin, which lets glucose enter cells. Without islet cells creating insulin, glucose starts building up in a person’s bloodstream. 

Like type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is caused in part by limited insulin production in the pancreas. However, this form of the disease also involves the development of insulin resistance in certain cells, including muscle, fat, and liver cells. 

Symptoms of Diabetes in Children 

Some of the most notable symptoms of diabetes are seen in both major types of the disease. These can include: 

  • Excessive thirst 
  • Increased urination (including bedwetting in children who have been potty trained) 
  • Unexpected weight loss 
  • Tiredness/fatigue 
  • Blurry vision 
  • Numb or tingling hands/feet 

While most diabetes symptoms are similar regardless of type, the way these symptoms manifest can differ sharply based on whether a person has type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Notably, symptoms often develop quickly in people with type 1 diabetes – sometimes over the course of mere weeks. In contrast, type 2 diabetes symptoms tend to develop gradually over a longer period of time (and in some cases, no symptoms develop whatsoever). 

Diabetes Risk Factors 

As mentioned above, age is a major risk factor for type 1 diabetes. Other risk factors for this form of diabetes include a family history of the disease and the presence of specific genes. 

Meanwhile, some risk factors for type 2 diabetes are: 

  • Excess weight 
  • Low physical activity 
  • A family history of type 2 diabetes 
  • Race/ethnicity 
  • Fat storage primarily in the abdomen 

Complications Of Diabetes in Children 

When left untreated, diabetes in children can have serious consequences. One of the most serious diabetes complications is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is most commonly caused by type 1 diabetes. 

DKA begins when cells are unable to access glucose as a fuel source. As an alternative, body fat is broken down – however, this process results in the creation of acidic ketones, which can build up in a person’s bloodstream. This complication is a medical emergency – if is not dealt with quickly, it could result in diabetic coma or death. 

A number of complications are associated with type 2 diabetes, as well. These include high blood pressure and cholesterol, kidney disease, and eye disease.  

Managing Diabetes in Children 

understanding-type-1-diabetesDiabetes cannot be cured at any age – if your child has this disease, they will need to focus on finding a way to manage it while living a normal life. The process of managing diabetes involves insulin injections (in some cases), keeping a close eye on blood sugar, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise. 

Childhood Diabetes Treatment & Prevention 

Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes at this time. However, the same is not true for type 2 diabetes, which means there are a few simple steps your child can take to lower their risk of developing diabetes. These steps include exercising at least 30 minutes a day, not consuming excessive amounts of calories, and working to maintain a moderate weight. 

How Parents & Guardians Can Help 

As your child’s caretaker, it’s only natural that you want to do everything you can to keep your child from developing diabetes – or make it easier for them to manage this disease if they are diagnosed with it. Here are a few ways you can do just that: 

  • As mentioned above, make sure your child is eating a healthy diet and getting a reasonable amount of exercise each day. 
  • Make sure your child gets regular check-ups. 
  • If your child is exhibiting one or more symptoms of diabetes, seek medical attention. 
  • Though children seven years and older can usually give themselves insulin injections and test their blood sugar, make sure to supervise them while they are doing so. 


While diabetes is a chronic disease, a diabetes diagnosis shouldn’t get in the way of your child’s ability to live a long, happy life. And if your child has some risk factors for type 2 diabetes, there are a number of things you can do to help lower their likelihood of developing this condition. 

Raising children can be complicated at the best of times, so it’s no surprise that diabetes can throw yet another wrench into things. To make life easier for yourself, consider diabetes supply delivery from US MED. We can keep you fully stocked with the diabetes supplies your child needs – take a look at our online store today! 

Shirley DeLeon Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist

Medical Review by Shirley DeLeon, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

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