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Diabetes

A girl checking her blood sugar level.

Diabetes is a disease that affects how your body uses food. When you eat, your body turns the food into a type of sugar called glucose. Your body then uses the glucose to fuel everything it does. There’s a catch, though. Your body needs insulin, a natural body chemical, in order to use the glucose. And if you’ve got diabetes, you’ve got problems with insulin.

With type 1 diabetes, your body basically doesn’t make insulin.

With type 2 diabetes, your body can’t use the insulin it makes.

Type 1 is the type kids usually get (which is why it has also been called juvenile diabetes). These days, though, a growing number of young people are starting to get type 2 diabetes. That’s probably because kids today are more likely to be overweight and not get enough exercise.

With either type of diabetes, you wind up with too much glucose in your blood, which can cause some serious health problems. For example, over time, too much sugar can harm the vessels that carry blood to important organs, like your eyes and heart. Luckily, there are lots of tools to help keep your glucose levels closer to where they should be.

Signs you may have diabetes arrow top

Before being diagnosed with diabetes, people usually show some signs. These include:

  • Feeling tired. If your body can’t use glucose, it doesn’t have the fuel it needs for energy. 
  • Urinating (peeing) a lot. The body tries to get rid of the extra glucose by urinating it out.
  • Drinking a lot. The body tries to make up for the fluids lost while urinating.
  • Eating a lot. If it can’t get energy from glucose, your body tries to get it by eating more food. 
  • Losing weight. When your body can’t use the glucose, it starts using up fat and muscle instead, which causes you to lose weight. 

If you think you might have diabetes, tell your parents or guardian. It takes only a few simple steps, like a blood test, for a doctor to figure out if you have it.

Living with diabetes arrow top

So far, there’s no cure for diabetes, so your best bet if you have it is to take good care of your health. Learning to manage diabetes can help you feel well now and help you avoid problems down the road. You can learn health tips in many ways, including from a certified diabetes instructor and at special camps just for kids with diabetes.

Your doctor, nurse, and other people who make up your care team will meet with you on a regular basis. They’ll do tests, ask questions, and work on your diabetes management plan. This plan likely will cover the basics of diabetes care: medicine, meal plans, and physical activity.

A big focus of any diabetes management plan is keeping your blood glucose as steady as possible. Your team will give you a target to aim for, but it’s natural to expect that your levels will go up and down.

If your blood glucose goes down very low or up very high, though, you could face some serious problems. You could even pass out. That’s why it’s a good idea to wear a medical alert bracelet that lets people know you have diabetes if you need help.

You and your family should learn the signs of low and high blood sugar levels.

Signs of low blood sugar include sweating, headache, feeling weak, feeling anxious, feeling confused, and having trouble concentrating.

Signs of high blood sugar include feeling very thirsty, needing to urinate a lot, and being unusually tired. If high blood sugars continue, you can get symptoms like stomach pain, nausea, fruity-smelling breath, and trouble breathing. These are signs of ketoacidosis (say: KEE-toh-ass-ih-DOH-sis), which is a very preventable but dangerous condition that requires immediate medical help.

Your diabetes care team will teach you and your family what to do in each situation. For example, if your blood sugar is very low, you may need a shot of glucagon. That’s a medicine you carry with you that can raise blood sugar levels very quickly.

Checking blood sugar levels arrow top

Most kids with diabetes test their blood sugar several times a day. It’s pretty easy to do. Usually, you just prick your fingertip to get a drop of blood that goes on a special test strip. (It feels pretty much like a quick pinch.) The strip then gets “read” by a small machine called a blood glucose monitor. A result appears in the machine’s window.

These results help in lots of ways. For example, they can let you know if you need to treat low blood sugar with something sweet. When they’re recorded over time, they can let your doctor see if your overall plan needs some changes.

Diabetes medication arrow top

The type of medication you might need depends on the type of diabetes you have.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need to take insulin. That’s to make up for the insulin your body isn’t making. You may get insulin through shots. (Don’t worry — the shots use very thin needles, so they don’t really hurt.) Or, you might use an insulin pump, which is small machine that’s worn on a belt or put in a pocket. The pump is connected to a plastic tube that's placed right under your skin.

If have type 2 diabetes, you may need pills to help your body make more insulin or to use the insulin it does make. You may also need insulin from shots or a pump, like people with type 1 diabetes.

Learn more about different types of insulin, how to use them, and other diabetes medicine topics.

Your eating plan arrow top

If you have diabetes, making good food choices is important to your health just like it is for everyone else. But you’ve got another reason to eat smart: Good food can help keep your blood sugar levels where you want them to be.

Your diabetes care team will help create a plan that’s right for you. Usually, the plan won't tell you exactly what to eat. Instead it will give you ideas about which kinds of foods to choose, when you should eat, healthy serving sizes, and other useful information, like how to deal with eating out. Read an article that serves up more info on meal plans.

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Jellybeans.What about candy?

People used to think sugary treats were a problem if you had diabetes. The thinking now is that they’re okay if they are part of a balanced meal plan — and not the main course!

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 Keep in mind that being a healthy weight can help with diabetes. If you want to lose weight, talk to your doctor about adjusting your food plan. Of course, extreme diets are always a bad idea, but they can be even more dangerous if you have diabetes. And don’t ever try changing your insulin dose to lose weight. You could wind up in a coma, and you could even die.

Physical activity arrow top

Exercise is another key to helping keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. It also can help reduce the chance of getting health problems that sometimes hit people with diabetes, like heart disease. Exercise offers lots of other plusses, too, from building bones to boosting moods and from increased energy to a good night’s sleep.

Work with your doctor to figure out the types and amount of exercise that are right for you. Also learn how to stay safe when you’re active, since exercise can make your blood sugar drop. All it takes is some smart planning to keep you in the game!

Staying safe with diabetes arrow top

Kids with diabetes can do pretty much all the same stuff as other kids. Sports, traveling, and other activities may require a little extra work, though. If you’re going to be out of your routine, you’ll want to make some changes. You might need to carry extra snacks, for example, or check your blood sugar more often. It’s also important to tell those around you what you need to make sure you’re healthy and safe.

At school, your teachers, school nurse, coach, and others should know how they can help you. You may not love this extra attention, but keep in mind that lots of kids at school need some kind of support. Want to get a sense of what a plan for your school might look like? Check out this example from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation , which also has lots cool stuff like online pen pals, contests, and tips.

Diabetes and your feelings arrow top

A diagnosis of diabetes certainly can make you feel annoyed, angry, frustrated, worried, and more. You might try out some cool tips that can help you cope.

For one, you can get your feelings out by talking about them. You might talk with your family, your doctor, caring friends, or a professional counselor. You might also consider joining a support group, which brings together other kids who are going through some of the exact same things you are.

Some kids like to draw or write about how they feel. You might also keep a list of your successes. Coping with diabetes means you’ve got a lot to feel proud about — and you’ve probably developed a lot of great strengths that will serve you well for the rest of your life.

 

Content last reviewed February 16, 2011
Page last updated October 31, 2013

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