A child testing his blood sugar.
Type 2 diabetes is starting to become more common in children.

What are Diabetes Symptoms in Children?

In 2015, there were an estimated 1.5 million new cases of diabetes. Of that 1.5 million, 193,000 were children and adolescents younger than age 20. Children and adolescents are much more likely to develop type 1 diabetes. Between 2011 and 2012, there were an estimated 17,900 new cases of type 1 diabetes in those under the age of 20. Because it has become so prevalent in younger people, it is important to know diabetes symptoms in children.

Those children and adolescents are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes but type 1 is on the rise. Between 2011 and 2012, there were an estimated 5,300 children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 who were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Why Do Children Have Diabetes?

The above statistics are expected to rise. Each year, the number of children with type 1 diabetes is expected to increase by 1.8% and type 2 diabetes by 4.8%. Why?

Research confirms there is an uptick in the number of children with type 1 diabetes, but there is not a definitive cause. Jessica Dunne, PhD, from Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Prevention Program, states, “Like most other diseases, it's a combination of genes and our environment.” We know that those with type 1 diabetes are genetically more likely to develop the disease, but not everyone has the same triggers. Identifying the triggers could reduce the likelihood of development of type 1 diabetes, but we are not there yet.

Historically, type 2 diabetes occurred only in adults. We are seeing it more and more in children and adolescents. Dr. Angela Lennon, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Kansas Hospital, says “One out of three children is either obese or overweight. We know the biggest risk factor that has changed is obesity. The CDC predicts that of those born in the year 2000, one out of three will also develop diabetes.”

Warning Signs for Type 2 Diabetes in Children

If you suspect your child may have type 2 diabetes, you should be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Excess urination, particularly at night
  • Increased thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Complaining of blurred vision
  • Slowed healing of cuts
  • Tiredness
  • Itching around the genitals, or being diagnosed with a yeast infection

Symptoms of insulin resistance (described below) include:

  • Acanthosis nigricans, which is dark velvety patches of skin
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Warning Signs for Type 1 Diabetes in Children

If you suspect your child may have type 1 diabetes, you should be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased urination
  • Complaining of blurred vision
  • A fruity smell to the breath
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
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Often, the first symptoms that parents may notice are symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is an emergency and must be treated in a hospital to reverse. It requires intravenous insulin, intravenous fluids and other supportive measures. Symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • A fruity smell to the breath
  • Confusion

Treatment Options for Type 2 Diabetes in Children

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance; this means that the pancreas is still making insulin, but the body is unable to use this insulin effectively. In order to use the insulin effectively, the following is recommended:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet. Often, a reduction in carbohydrates is recommended.
  • Increasing activity. Exercise allows the body to become less insulin resistant; this means that the body can use its own insulin more effectively.
  • Weight loss. Weight loss can also reduce insulin resistance, thereby reducing glucose levels.
  • Medication. Sometimes medications are required in order to control glucose levels.

Treatment Options for Type 1 Diabetes in Children

Type 1 diabetes is characterized by an absolute absence of insulin in the body; the pancreas typically makes insulin, and the pancreas can no longer make insulin. This means that for those children with type 1 diabetes, exogenous insulin will need to be administered. Without insulin through injections or an insulin pump, diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) or even death can occur quickly.

Treatment requires blood sugar monitoring; there are a variety of options available. Traditional monitoring involves the use of lancets and a meter. There are also continuous glucose monitors that can make monitoring much easier.

Insulin can be given through injections or through an insulin pump. Insulin is given to keep glucose levels at a target level. It is required to allow the body to use glucose for energy. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising is also recommended; this can help reduce complications later in life.