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Type 2 Diabetes in Children

What is type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition in which the body can't make enough insulin, or can't use insulin normally. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder. Insulin is a hormone. It helps sugar (glucose) in the blood get into cells of the body to be used as fuel. When glucose can’t enter the cells, it builds up in the blood. This is called high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). High blood sugar can cause problems all over the body. It can damage blood vessels and nerves. It can harm the eyes, kidneys, and heart.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

The cause of type 2 diabetes is unknown. But it can run in families. It usually takes another factor, such as obesity, to bring on the condition.

Who is at risk for type 2 diabetes?

A child is more at risk for type 1 diabetes if he or she has any of these risk factors:

  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Not exercising regularly
  • Being African American, Hispanic American, or American Indian
  • A low level HDL cholesterol
  • A high triglyceride level
  • Being female
  • Having slightly high blood sugar levels (prediabetes)

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes often causes no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they can include:                                                                                                                                               

  • Frequent bladder infections
  • Skin infections and wounds that don’t heal easily
  • Needing to urinate often
  • Weight loss despite more appetite  
  • Excess thirst
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High levels of glucose in the blood and urine when tested
  • Tingling or loss of feeling in the hands or feet

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?

Children at higher risk of type 2 diabetes should be screened. Screening may include tests such as:

  • Glycated hemoglobin A1C. This test measures the amount of glucose in red blood cells. It shows the average blood glucose levels for the last 3 months.
  • Fasting plasma glucose. The blood is tested after a period of not eating.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test. This test is done by measuring blood glucose levels 2 hours after drinking a glucose drink. 

Other urine and blood tests may be done to see if your child has type 2 diabetes. 

How is type 2 diabetes treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. The goal of treatment is to keep blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. Treatment will include:

  • A healthy diet
  • Weight loss, if needed
  • Regular exercise
  • Good hygiene
  • Insulin replacement therapy (under the direction of your child's healthcare provider )
  • Regular checking of blood sugar levels
  • Oral medicines, if needed
  • Insulin replacement, if needed 

What are possible complications of type 2 diabetes?

Children with type 2 diabetes are at risk for problems such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders

Other possible complications that may show up later in life include:

  • Vascular disease
  • Kidney damage
  • Eye damage
  • Heart disease
  • Damage to the nervous system

Can type 2 diabetes be prevented?

Lifestyle changes that may prevent or delay type 2 diabetes include: 

  • A healthy diet
  • Weight loss, if needed
  • Regular exercise

Living with type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition. It requires lifestyle changes in order to keep healthy blood glucose levels. It’s important to work closely with your child's healthcare team to create an ongoing plan that works for your child.

It helps if the whole family makes lifestyle changes together to develop healthy habits. For example:

  • Eating least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day
  • Eating foods high in fiber and low in fat
  • Eating smaller portion sizes off smaller plates
  • Doing regular physical activity each day, such as sports, bike riding, or walking
  • Limiting screen time to no more than 1 to 2 hours a day, including TV, computer, and video games                                

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child is at risk for diabetes.

Key points about type 2 diabetes

  • Diabetes is a condition in which the body can't make enough insulin, or can't use insulin normally. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder.
  • High blood sugar can cause problems all over the body. It can damage blood vessels and nerves. It can harm the eyes, kidneys, and heart.
  • Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include family history, excess weight, and not enough exercise.
  • Children at higher risk of type 2 diabetes should be screened. Screening is done with blood tests.
  • Treatment includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and weight loss. Medicines and insulin may be needed in some cases.
  • Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition. It requires lifestyle changes in order to keep healthy blood glucose levels. It’s important to work closely with your child's healthcare team to create an ongoing plan that works for your child.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Date Last Reviewed: 11/5/2015
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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