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Diabetes in Children

Diabetes in Children Diabetes in Children

​Diabetes mellitus is a chronic medical condition that causes problems with the body's ability to change food--especially sugars (carbohydrates)--into fuel for the body. High blood glucose from not properly treating the diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes and nervous system over many years.

Forms of diabetes

The two most common forms of diabetes are called type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Both forms can occur at any age, but children are more likely to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough of a hormone called insulin. This stops the body from being able to use sugar, which then build up in the bloodstream. These sugars (also called glucose) that cannot be used by the body pass out of the body in the urine and take water with it.

While type 1 diabetes can begin at any age, there are peak periods at about ages 5 to 6 and then again at ages 11 to 13. Often a first sign is an increase in the how often a child urinates, especially at night, and may cause a child who is potty trained to start bedwetting again. There are other key symptoms as well, for example, being very thirsty and tired, losing weight, and an increased appetite.

​Identifying symptoms of type 1 diabetes early is important. High blood sugar levels and dehydration caused by uncontrolled diabetes is dangerous and can cause children to need intravenous insulin and fluids in a pediatric emergency room or critical care unit.​

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes was once called “adult onset" diabetes, because children hardly ever got it. With rising rates of childhood obesity, however, a growing number of children are being diagnosed with this form of the disease—some as young as 10 years old. In addition to weight problems, other risk factors for type 2 diabetes in children include having a family member with the disease, and being born to a mother with diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes), or other medical problems that affect the way the body handles insulin.

Symptoms are similar to type 1 diabetes and may show up gradually. Darkened areas of skin, especially around the neck or in the armpits, are also common.

Controlling and managing diabetes

Although there is no cure for diabetes, children with this disease can lead normal lives if it's kept under control. Managing the disease focuses on blood sugar monitoring, treatment such as insulin therapy, given as multiple injections per day or through an insulin pump, and maintaining a healthy diet. Keeping blood sugars within a normal range re­duces is important and lowers the risk of long-term health problems related to poor diabetes control. In addition to a healthy diet, at least thirty minutes of exercise a day can help children man­age their disease as well.

What parents of children with diabetes can do

As your child becomes more independent, you can help them learn to take more responsibility for caring for their diabetes. Children above the age of 7 typically have the fine motor skills to be able to start giving them­selves insulin injections with adult supervision. They can also check the sugar in their blood several times per day, using simple, chemically treated test strips and a blood sugar meter.

However, these self-care tasks need your supervision to make certain their diabetes stays under control according to your doctor's guidelines.

  • If your child takes too much insulin: their blood sugar can become too low (hypoglycemia). This can lead to trembling, a rapid heartbeat, nausea, fatigue, weakness, and even loss of consciousness.

  • If your child takes too little insulin: the major symptoms of dia­betes (weight loss, increased urination, thirst, and appetite), can return.

Developing good diabetes management habits when a child is young can have a dramatic impact on their management habits as they get older. Many communities also have active parent groups that share and discuss common concerns. Ask your doctor for a recommendation.


Regular check-ups are especially important to identify and treat diabetes in children as early as possible. Talk with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your child's health.

Additional Information:

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Endocrinology (Copyright ©2020)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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