How does diabetes affect kids and young adults?

In young people, diabetes rates are increasing. In children and adolescents, early detection and treatment can improve their health and wellbeing throughout life.

The 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report states that in the United States, around 210,000 children and teenagers under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is much more common than type 2 diabetes in young people. The rates of both types among young people, however, are rising.

In 2014-2015, doctors diagnosed around 18,291 young people aged 10-19 years with type 1 diabetes and around 5,758 young people with type 2 diabetes.

The National Institutes of Health ( NIH) reports that rates of type 1 diabetes increase by 1.8 percent each year, and rates of type 2 diabetes increase by 4.8 percent every year.

Throughout their lifetimes, young individuals who develop diabetes have a greater risk of health problems.

An overview of diabetes in children and teenagers, including symptoms , causes, and treatment options, will be provided in this article.

Which types of diabetes affect young people?

Which types of diabetes affect young people?

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are conditions that vary, but they also affect the use of insulin by the body. Even though type 1 is more common in young people, both types can affect children and teenagers.

Type 1 diabetes

Childhood type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes, occurs when insulin is unable to be produced by the pancreas.

Sugar does not move from the blood into the cells without insulin and high blood sugar levels can occur.

At any age, from early childhood to adulthood, people can develop type 1 diabetes, but the average age at diagnosis is 13. In individuals under 20 years of age, an estimated 85 percent of all type 1 diagnoses take place.

In order to help maintain blood sugar levels within the target range, therapy requires lifelong insulin use and blood sugar control, as well as diet and exercise management.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is less common in young children, but when insulin doesn’t function properly, it can occur. Glucose will accumulate in the bloodstream without adequate insulin.

When people grow older, the risk of getting type 2 diabetes increases, but kids may develop it as well.

The levels of type 2 diabetes, along with rises in childhood obesity, are growing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) reports that in the U.S. in 2015-2016, obesity affected about 18.5% of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years.

Over 75 percent of children with type 2 diabetes, either because of inheritance or shared lifestyle patterns, have a close relative who has it. Having a type 2 diabetes parent or sibling is associated with an increased risk.

Occasionally, the person will need medication. However, people can often manage type 2 diabetes by:

  • changing the diet
  • getting more exercise
  • maintaining a moderate weight

Symptoms

In children, teens , and adults, the symptoms of diabetes are similar. Some signs are similar in all forms of diabetes, but to help tell them apart, there are some differences.

Type 1 diabetes symptoms in children tend to develop rapidly over a couple of weeks. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes grow more slowly. A diagnosis may take months or years to receive.

Type 1 diabetes

In children and adolescents, the principal symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:

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

A common symptom before diagnosis is weight loss. Symptoms of diabetes may also be yeast infections in females.

At the time of diagnosis, certain individuals will experience diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This occurs when, due to a lack of insulin , the body begins to burn fat for energy. This is a serious disorder that requires therapy.

By acknowledging the four main signs of type 1 diabetes, people will be able to get a diagnosis before DKA develops.

Diabetes U.K. urge people to be aware of the “4 Ts” in children:

  • Toilet: The child might be using the bathroom frequently, infants may be having heavier diapers, or bedwetting may be occurring after being dry for some time.
  • Thirsty: The child may be drinking more fluids than usual but feeling unable to quench their thirst.
  • Tired: The child may be feeling more tired than usual.
  • Thinner: The child may be losing weight.

The video below provides more information on the 4 Ts:

Type 2 diabetes

The main 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 a result of eye dryness

The formation of dark, velvety skin patches, called acanthosis nigricans, is another sign of insulin resistance.

Polycystic ovary syndrome is yet another condition frequently associated with insulin resistance, although it’s not a sign of it, per se.

If they notice any of the above signs, parents and caregivers should take their child to the doctor.

Warning signs

Just 9 percent of parents were able to recognise the four main symptoms of type 1 diabetes in their kids, according to a 2012 survey from Diabetes U.K. This figure had risen to 14 percent by 2013.

Until their symptoms are already severe, some children do not obtain a diagnosis. It could prove fatal to obtain such a late diagnosis.

Do not miss the symptoms

There are typically four major signs in children and adolescents with diabetes, but sometimes kids may only have one or two. They can show no symptoms at all in some cases.

If a child unexpectedly becomes more thirsty or sleepy or urinates more than normal, diabetes may not be considered a risk by their parents.

For physicians, this may also be the case, since diabetes is less common in very young children. They may attribute the symptoms to other illnesses that are more common. They do not diagnose diabetes straight away for this reason.

To get a diagnosis and treatment plan as soon as possible , it is important to be aware of the possible signs and symptoms of diabetes in children.

Complications

DKA is among the most extreme effects of undiagnosed type 1 diabetes. This, and other problems, will be discussed in more detail in the sections below.

DKA

If a child is not treated for type 1 diabetes, he or she can develop DKA. Type 2 diabetes can lead to DKA as well, but this is uncommon.

DKA is a serious and life-threatening condition in which urgent care is needed.

The body will not use glucose for energy if insulin levels are very low. Instead, for energy, fat begins to break down.

This results in the development of chemicals called ketones, which, at high levels, can be harmful. DKA is caused by a buildup of these chemicals, wherein the body becomes acidic.

DKA can be avoided by early detection and efficient diabetes treatment, although this is not always possible. In children with an incorrect, and thus delayed, diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, DKA is more common.

One 2008 investigation found that in more than 16 percent of cases among 335 children under the age of 17 years with new onset type 1 diabetes, the initial diagnosis was incorrect.

Instead, they received the following diagnoses:

  • respiratory system infection: 46.3%
  • perineal candidiasis 16.6%
  • gastroenteritis: 16.6%
  • urinary tract infection: 11.1%
  • stomatitis: 11.1%
  • appendicitis: 3.7%

Type 2 diabetes complications

Without therapy, in young people, type 2 diabetes tends to develop faster than in adults.

Earlier in life, younger individuals often appear to have a greater chance of complications, such as kidney and eye disease.

There is also a higher risk of high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol, which raises the risk of blood artery disease in a person.

In adolescents, type 2 diabetes often happens with obesity, which can lead to these higher risks. The ability of the body to use insulin is impaired by obesity, leading to abnormal levels of blood sugar.

As a result, early identification of type 2 diabetes and attention to overweight and obesity treatment in younger adults are important.

This may include encouraging children to behave a healthy diet and exercise a lot.

Diagnosis

For screening, any child with signs or symptoms of diabetes should see a doctor. This can consist of a urine test to look for urine sugar or a blood finger-prick test to check the glucose levels of the child.

The National Institute for Health Care and Excellence recommends children to be screened for diabetes if:

  • have a strong family history of type 2 diabetes
  • have obesity
  • are of Black or Asian family origin
  • show evidence of insulin resistance, such as acanthosis nigricans

The outcomes for children with type 1 or type 2 diabetes probably improve with early detection.

Prevention

It is not presently possible to prevent type 1 diabetes, but type 2 diabetes is largely preventable.

In infancy, the following steps will help avoid Type 2 diabetes:

  • Maintain a moderate weight: Overweight increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as it increases the chance of insulin resistance.
  • Stay active: Keeping physically active reduces insulin resistance and helps manage blood pressure.
  • Limit sugary foods and beverages: Consuming lots of foods that are high in sugar can lead to weight gain and problems with insulin function. Eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet — with plenty of vitamins, fiber, and lean proteins — will lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Summary

There are rising rates of diabetes in childhood and adolescence. In young people, type 1 diabetes is much more common than type 2 diabetes, but the rates of both are rising.

In most cases, with a healthy diet, daily exercise, and medication, people can control the effects of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

People with diabetes will live complete and healthy lives when they manage the condition well.

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