It's important to notice the signs of diabetes early

Diabetes mellitus is a condition when blood sugar levels are too high. The most common type of diabetes in children and teens is Type 1 diabetes mellitus, which is caused by an autoimmune condition that destroys insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.

Insulin is a hormone that moves sugar, derived from food, from the blood into the cells to be used for energy. When the body cannot make enough insulin to match food intake, it can cause high levels of blood sugar or glucose.

"While Type 1 diabetes is more common in kids, we are seeing increasing rates of Type 2 diabetes in children and teens due to the growing population of overweight and obese youth," said Dr. Naomi Fogel, director of outpatient diabetes at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago.

In Type 2 diabetes, the body makes enough, and often excessive, insulin, but it is not able to use the insulin effectively, resulting in high blood sugars. "The pancreas makes insulin, but the cells can't respond to it, leading to high levels of glucose in the blood," Fogel said.

So what causes Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes? "Type 1 diabetes is caused by a genetic predisposition and then some other trigger, possibly environmental or a virus," Fogel said. "Genetics or family history play a part in causing Type 2 diabetes but it is mainly a consequence of obesity."

Proper diagnosis is needed to determine what type of diabetes a child or teen may have but the symptoms of both Type 1 and Type 2 are similar including:

• Increased urination

• Increased thirst

• Increased appetite

If a diagnosis is not made, a child's symptoms may worsen, and they may experience dehydration, irritability, fatigue, weight loss, nausea and vomiting.

While symptoms for Type 1 and Type 2 are the same, treatment and management differ.

"Since children or teens with Type 1 diabetes do not make any insulin, we need to replace the insulin their bodies would normally make each day," Fogel said. "Insulin can be given throughout the day by injections or via an insulin pump that is worn on the body."

Treatment for Type 2 diabetes can include taking an oral medication and/or insulin injections but the mainstay of treatment is making intensive diet changes and increasing physical activity. "At this time we have no way of preventing Type 1 diabetes so it's important to recognize the signs and diagnose early," Fogel said. "An important way to prevent your child from developing Type 2 diabetes is to make lifestyle changes that can have a positive effect on weight and overall health. If your child is overweight or obese, start now with changes in diet and exercise. Reach out to your health care providers for help. Any changes, big or small, can benefit the entire family."

Lurie Children's is ranked among the top in the nation for diabetes and endocrinology by U.S. News & World Report. By offering medical consultation, diagnosis, education, advice, guidelines and support, our diabetes program helps parents and children lead successful lives with diabetes diagnoses.

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. For more information, visit

Dr. Naomi Fogel
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