Do you know the warning signs of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children? Being aware can help you spot the disease early and prevent long-term health problems


Diabetes is a serious condition that, if left untreated, can damage virtually every tissue in the body. Diabetes in children may be particularly dangerous because kids aren’t attuned to the symptoms. Whether you’re talking about type 1 or type 2 (see below to learn the difference), the disease affects children much the same way it does adults—symptoms are similar and many of the same treatments are used. But children may not know what they’re feeling or think to tell you what’s going on. That’s why it’s important that parents know what to look for. Read on to learn about the two types of diabetes and common warning signs.


Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas fails to produce the insulin necessary to break down glucose. People with type 1 diabetes must get their insulin through an injection or pump. (Type 1 diabetes used to be referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes, because it was typically diagnosed in childhood.)

The causes of the condition are not fully understood but it may be a combination of genetic components and an autoimmune response, in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks itself. As with adults, treatment for type 1 diabetes in children includes glucose monitoring, insulin replacement, carbohydrate counting and lifestyle interventions, such as eating a healthy diet and incorporating regular physical activity.

Type 2 Diabetes

Until recently, type 2 diabetes rarely occurred in kids. In fact, it was often called adult-onset diabetes. But statistics suggest that type 2 diabetes in children is on the rise, largely due to childhood obesity and inactivity, and partly to genetic factors.

Treatment for type 2 diabetes in children is the same as in adults; it includes making lifestyle changes, such as achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly. Children may need to self-monitor blood glucose levels and, in some cases, take medication.

Warning Signs

While the symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are generally similar, type 1 diabetes symptoms usually develop quickly, often over a period of weeks, while symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children may develop more slowly. Knowing what to look for can help you detect diabetes early and prevent long-term complications.

Increased thirst and urination: The elevated glucose level in your child’s blood (from being unable to move glucose into the cells) draws water from tissues, causing increased thirst. Your child will probably drink more to satisfy this thirst and as a result, your child will also be urinating more frequently than usual.

Intense hunger: Another effect of glucose not being moved into the cells: The tissues of your child’s body become starved, which can lead to increased hunger, called hyperphagia.

Weight loss: Even though your child may be eating more, energy is not able to reach the tissues, so he or she may actually lose weight.

Fatigue: Because your child’s body isn’t getting the energy it needs, he or she may experience extreme fatigue.

Blurred vision: Excess sugar in the tiny blood vessels of the eye can pull fluid from the lens, causing difficulty in focusing.

Additional symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children may include unusual behavior and a yeast infection in girls, while type 2 diabetes can cause slowed wound healing, frequent infections and areas of darkened skin (called acanthosis nigricans).

If you notice any of these symptoms, check in with your doctor. She can run tests to determine whether you child has diabetes.

Read about how food can affect your child’s diabetes here and learn about carb counting and food exchanges here.