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HealthInfo Canterbury

Diabetes in children & teens

Diabetes, sometimes called diabetes mellitus, is a lifelong disease that causes high glucose (sugar) in your blood.

When you eat foods containing carbohydrates (such as bread, cereal, fruit and some vegetables), your body turns them into glucose. Your body needs insulin to move glucose out of your blood and into your muscle and fat cells.

Insulin is a hormone you make in your pancreas – a gland below your stomach.

You get type 1 diabetes if your body doesn't make enough insulin. This is the most common form of diabetes in children and teens. Health professionals don't fully understand what causes type 1 diabetes but it's a mix of genetic factors (passed down from parents) and a trigger in the environment such as a viral infection. It's not related to what a child eats.

You get type 2 diabetes if your body can't use insulin properly. Risk factors for getting type 2 diabetes include being overweight and having a family history of diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes

The main symptoms of diabetes include:

Diagnosing diabetes

Your doctor will usually diagnose diabetes using blood tests, including finger prick tests for blood sugar (glucose).

Treating diabetes

For type 1 diabetes, the treatment is the hormone insulin, combined with managing what you eat and physical activity. Insulin is usually injected into your body and you learn to do this yourself.

You may be able to manage type 2 diabetes by losing weight, healthy eating and exercise. Sometimes you may also need tablets and insulin.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2021.


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