When it comes to your body, you probably spend more time thinking about your hair than your hormones. For some people, though, a problem with a hormone called insulin causes a health condition called type 2 diabetes (pronounced: dye-uh-be-tees).
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 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, the pancreas can't make insulin. The body can still get glucose from food, but the glucose can't get into the cells, where it's needed, and glucose stays in the blood. This makes the blood sugar level very high.
With type 2 diabetes, the body still produces insulin. But a person with type 2 diabetes doesn't respond normally to the insulin the body makes. So glucose is less able to enter the cells and do its job of supplying energy.
When glucose can't enter the cells in this way, doctors call it insulin resistance. Although there's plenty of insulin in the person's body, because it doesn't work properly, the pancreas still detects high blood sugar levels. This makes the pancreas produce even more insulin.
The pancreas may eventually wear out from working overtime to produce extra insulin. When this happens, it may no longer be able to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels where they should be. In general, when someone's blood sugar levels are repeatedly high, it's a sign that he or she has diabetes.
Sometimes people with type 2 diabetes take pills that help the insulin in their bodies work better. Some people with type 2 diabetes also need insulin shots or an insulin pump to control their diabetes.
What makes people more likely to develop type 2 diabetes? No one knows for sure. But experts have a few ideas about what puts a person at greater risk:
People who have type 2 diabetes may not know it because the symptoms aren't always obvious and they can take a long time to develop. Some people don't have any symptoms at all.
But when a person gets type 2 diabetes, he or she may:
Also, people whose bodies are having problems using insulin or who are overweight may notice something called acanthosis nigricans. This can cause a dark ring around the neck that doesn't wash off, as well as thick, dark, velvety skin under the arms, in between fingers and toes, between the legs, or on elbows and knees.
In addition, girls with insulin resistance may have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In PCOS, the ovaries get bigger and develop fluid-filled sacs called cysts. Girls with this condition often have irregular periods or may stop having periods altogether, and they are more likely to have excess facial and body hair.
Doctors can say for sure if a person has diabetes by testing blood samples for glucose. Even if someone doesn't have any symptoms of type 2 diabetes, doctors may order blood tests to check for it if the person has certain risk factors (for instance, being overweight).
Some kids and teens with diabetes may go to 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 2 diabetes have to pay a little more attention to what they're eating and doing than people who don't have diabetes. They may need to:
People with type 2 diabetes might have to eat smaller food portions and less salt or fat, too. Those who eat healthy foods, stay active, and get to a healthy weight may bring their blood sugar levels into a healthier range. Their doctors may even say they don't need to take any medicines at all.
Sometimes people who have diabetes feel different from their friends because they need to think about how they eat and how to 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 type 2 diabetes, it's normal to feel like your world has been turned upside down. Fortunately, your diabetes care team is there to provide answers and support. Don't hesitate to ask your doctors, dietitian, and other treatment 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.|
|Diabetes Control: Why It's Important People who have diabetes may hear or read a lot about controlling, or managing, the condition. But what is diabetes control and why is it so important?|
|Diabetes: When to Call the Doctor Taking care of your diabetes includes knowing when to call a doctor and get medical help.|
|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 2 Diabetes: How Is It Treated? People with type 2 diabetes need to follow a plan to manage their diabetes and stay healthy and active.|
|Weight and Diabetes Weight can influence diabetes, and diabetes can influence weight. Managing weight can really make a difference in a person's diabetes management plan.|
|Long-Term Complications of Diabetes Thinking about your diabetes a little bit now - and taking some steps to prevent problems - may make things easier down the road.|
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