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What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes — type 1 and type 2. Let's find out about type 2 diabetes (say: dye-uh-BEE-tees), a health problem that affects kids and adults.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose (say: GLOO-kose), a sugar that is the body's main source of fuel. Your body needs glucose to keep running. Here's how it should work:

  1. You eat.
  2. Glucose from the food gets into your bloodstream.
  3. Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin (say: IN-suh-lin).
  4. Insulin helps the glucose get into the body's cells.
  5. Your body gets the energy it needs.

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.

  • 90-Second Summary: Type 2 Diabetes

    90-Second Summary: Type 2 Diabetes

    Learn the basics in 90 seconds.

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause high blood sugar levels in different ways.

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. Glucose stays in the blood. This makes the blood sugar level very high.

Type 2 diabetes is different. With type 2, the pancreas still makes insulin. But the insulin doesn't do its job as well in the body. Glucose just hangs around and builds up in the blood. The pancreas makes even more insulin to get glucose to go into the cells, but eventually gets worn out from working so hard. As a result, the blood sugar levels rise too high.

Most people who have type 2 diabetes are overweight.

Kids with family members who have type 2 diabetes get diabetes more often. Kids older than 10 are more likely to get type 2 diabetes than younger kids.

What Are the Signs of Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes can show up in different ways. Some kids have symptoms, but others don’t. Kids with diabetes symptoms may:

  • need to pee a lot
  • be thirstier and drink more than usual
  • feel tired often
  • have blurry vision

The skin can look different in some kids with type 2 diabetes. They may notice a dark ring around their necks that doesn't wash off. They may also see thick, dark, velvety skin under the arms, between the legs, between fingers and toes, or on elbows and knees. This skin darkening can lighten over time with if someone's insulin resistance gets better.

How Is Type 2 Diabetes Diagnosed?

How do you find out whether you have diabetes? Doctors can say for sure if a person has diabetes by testing blood samples for glucose. Even if a kid doesn't have any symptoms of type 2 diabetes, doctors may use blood tests to check for it in kids who are more likely to get it — like those who are overweight.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you may visit a doctor called a pediatric endocrinologist (say: pee-dee-AH-trik en-duh-krih-NOL-eh-jist). A pediatric endocrinologist helps kids with diabetes, growth problems, and more.

How Is Type 2 Diabetes Treated?

The goal of treatment for type 2 diabetes is to keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Treatment usually includes:

  • eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • getting regular physical activity
  • checking blood sugar levels regularly
  • losing weight, if recommended
  • taking anti-diabetes pills or getting insulin (by injection or with a pump). If blood sugars remain high, the doctor may add another medicine.

The good news is that kids who eat healthy foods, stay active, and get to a good weight might be able to get their blood sugar levels into a healthier range. If that happens, their doctors may decide they don't have to take medicine for diabetes anymore.

What Else Should I Know?

Even though kids with diabetes have to do some special things, diabetes doesn't keep them from doing the stuff they love. They can still play sports, go out with their friends, and go on trips.

So if you have a friend with diabetes, let them know you can deal with it. Being friends is all about having fun together, not having a perfect blood sugar level!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date Reviewed: Feb 1, 2022

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