After school, when her friends flock to the store to pig out on candy and snack cakes, Sara passes up the sugary treats and sticks to the bottled water and half of a sandwich she packs. Her friends don't tease her, though, because they know that Sara has diabetes. Watching what she eats, getting plenty of exercise, and taking special medicine helps Sara live a normal, healthy life.
Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose (pronounced: gloo-kose), a sugar that is the body's main source of fuel. Like your cell phone needs a battery, your body needs glucose to keep running. Here's how it should work.
The pancreas is a long, flat gland in your belly that helps your body digest food. It also makes insulin. Insulin is kind of like a key that opens the doors to the cells of the body. It lets the glucose in. Then the glucose can move out of the blood and into the cells.
But if someone has diabetes, the body either can't make insulin or the insulin doesn't work in the body like it should. The glucose can't get into the cells normally, so the blood sugar level gets too high. Lots of sugar in the blood makes people sick if they don't get treatment.
There are two major types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Each type causes high blood sugar levels in a different way.
In type 1 diabetes (which used to be called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes), the pancreas can't make insulin. That's because — for reasons doctors don't completely understand — the body's immune system attacked the pancreas and destroyed the cells that make insulin.
When a person has type 1 diabetes, the body is still able to get glucose from food, but the lack of insulin means that glucose can't get into the cells where it's needed. So the glucose stays in the blood. This makes the blood sugar level very high and causes health problems.
Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still makes insulin. But the insulin doesn't work in the body like it should and blood sugar levels get too high.
No one knows for sure what causes type 1 diabetes, but scientists think it has something to do with genes. Genes are like instructions for how the body should look and work that are passed on by parents to their kids.
But just getting the genes for diabetes isn't usually enough. In most cases, something else has to happen — like getting a viral infection — for a person to develop type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes can't be prevented. Doctors can't even tell who will get it and who won't.
People can have diabetes without knowing it because the symptoms aren't always obvious and they can take a long time to develop. Type 1 diabetes may come on gradually or suddenly.
When a person first has type 1 diabetes, he or she may:
Also, girls who have developed diabetes are more likely to get vaginal yeast infections before they're diagnosed and treated.
If these early symptoms of diabetes aren't recognized and treatment isn't started, chemicals can build up in the blood and cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, breathing problems, and even loss of consciousness. Doctors call this diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA.
There's good news, though — getting treatment can control or stop these diabetes symptoms from happening and reduce the risk of long-term problems.
Doctors can say for sure if a person has diabetes by testing blood samples for glucose. If the doctor suspects that a kid or teen has diabetes, he or she may send the person to see a pediatric endocrinologist — a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating children and teens living with diseases of the endocrine system, such as diabetes and growth problems.
People with type 1 diabetes have to pay a little more attention to what they're eating and doing than people who don't have diabetes.
They need to:
Sometimes people who have diabetes feel different from their friends because they need to take insulin, think about how they eat, and control their blood sugar levels every day.
Some teens with diabetes want to deny that they even have it. They might hope that if they ignore diabetes, it will just go away. They may feel angry, depressed, helpless, or that their parents are constantly in their faces about their diabetes management.
If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, it's normal to feel like your world has been turned upside down. Fortunately, your doctor or diabetes care team is there to provide answers and support. Don't hesitate to ask your doctors, dietitian, and other health professionals for advice and tips.
Also seek out support groups where you can talk about your feelings and find out how other people cope with the disease.
Diabetes brings challenges, of course. But teens with diabetes play sports, travel, date, go to school, and work just like their friends. There are thousands of teens with diabetes, all learning to handle the same challenges.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2012
|National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases This group conducts and supports research on many serious diseases affecting public health.|
|American Diabetes Association (ADA) The ADA website includes news, information, tips, and recipes for people with diabetes.|
|Children With Diabetes This website offers true stories about kids and teens who have diabetes.|
|Joslin Diabetes Center The website of this Boston-based center has information about how to monitor blood sugar and manage diabetes.|
|Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF) JDRF's mission is to find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research.|
|Medicines for Diabetes Taking medicines is a major part of staying healthy if you have diabetes because they help you keep your blood sugar levels under control.|
|Diabetes: What's True and False? There's a lot of diabetes information out there - unfortunately, not all of it is based on facts. Following bad advice could actually harm a person with diabetes.|
|Diabetes Center Our Diabetes Center provides information and advice for teens about treating and living with diabetes.|
|Can Diabetes Be Prevented? The things you do now could help prevent diabetes later, depending on the type of diabetes. Here's the scoop on diabetes prevention.|
|Type 1 Diabetes: How Is It Treated? People with type 1 diabetes need to follow a treatment plan to manage their diabetes and stay healthy and active.|
|Other Diseases That Are More Common in People With Type 1 Diabetes People with type 1 diabetes have a greater risk for certain health problems, such as thyroid disorders, celiac disease, and Addison's disease. Find out more about these autoimmune disorders.|
|Eating Out When You Have Diabetes Eating out is probably a part of your social scene. If you have diabetes, you can pretty much eat the same foods as your friends and family. You just have to keep track of what you eat and eat certain foods in moderation.|
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