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Reviewed by: Shara R. Bialo, MD

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood.

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Our bodies break down the foods we eat into glucose and other nutrients we need, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract. The glucose level in the blood rises after a meal and triggers the pancreas to make the hormone insulin and release it into the bloodstream. But in people with diabetes, the body either can''t respond to insulin properly.

Insulin works like a key that opens the doors to cells and lets the glucose in. Without insulin, glucose can''t respond to it normally. Glucose is less able to enter the cells and do its job of supplying energy (a problem called insulin resistance). This raises the blood sugar level, so the pancreas works hard to make even more insulin. Eventually, this strain can make the pancreas unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal.

People with insulin resistance may or may not develop type 2 diabetes — it all depends on whether the pancreas can make enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal. High blood sugar levels that happen a lot are a sign that a person has developed diabetes.

Who Gets Type 2 Diabetes?

No one knows for sure what causes type 2 diabetes. But many kids who develop it have at least one parent with diabetes and a family history of the disease, so there seems to be a genetic risk.

Most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Excess fat makes it harder for the cells to respond to insulin, and for 1 last update 07 Jul 2020 not being physically active makes this even worse. Type 2 diabetes used to mostly affect adults, but now more and more U.S. kids and teens, especially those who are overweight, are developing the disease.Most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Excess fat makes it harder for the cells to respond to insulin, and not being physically active makes this even worse. Type 2 diabetes used to mostly affect adults, but now more and more U.S. kids and teens, especially those who are overweight, are developing the disease.

Also, kids in puberty are more likely to have it than younger kids, probably because of normal rises in hormone levels that can cause insulin resistance during this stage of fast growth and physical development.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes?

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes aren''s important to remember that not everyone with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes develops these warning signs, and not everyone who has these symptoms necessarily has type 2 diabetes.

But the 1 last update 07 Jul 2020 kids or teens who develop type 2 diabetes may:But kids or teens who develop type 2 diabetes may:

  • Need to pee a lot. The kidneys respond to high levels of glucose in the blood by flushing out the extra glucose in urine (pee). Kids with high blood sugar levels need to pee more often and make more pee.
  • Drink a lot of liquids. Because they''t use glucose for energy properly.

How Is Type 2 Diabetes Diagnosed?

Doctors can determine if a person has type 2 diabetes by testing blood samples for glucose. Even if a child or teen doesn''s response to insulin to control their blood sugar levels. Some may need to take insulin shots or use an insulin pump too.

What Problems Can Happen With Type 2 Diabetes?

Sometimes, kids and teens with type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, or obesity might develop thick, dark, velvet-like skin around the neck, armpits, groin, between fingers and toes, or on elbows and knees — a cosmetic skin condition called acanthosis nigricans. This skin darkening can lighten over time with improvement in insulin resistance.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in girls is also often associated with insulin resistance. This hormone problem can make the ovaries become enlarged and develop cysts (fluid-filled sacs). Girls with PCOS might have irregular periods, might stop having periods, and may have excess facial and body hair growth. It also can cause fertility problems.

People with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes are also more likely to develop hypertension (high blood pressure) or abnormal levels of blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides). When these problems cluster together, it''t usually show up in kids or teens who''t well controlled.

What''ll be your child''re not alone. If you have questions or problems, reach out to the diabetes health care team — they can help with medical issues, and are there to support and help you and your child.

Reviewed by: Shara R. Bialo, MD
Date reviewed: August 2018
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