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Teens and Diabetes Mellitus 

What is diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder where the body does not make enough insulin or respond normally to insulin. This causes blood sugar (glucose) levels to become abnormally high. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body. Insulin is a hormone needed by the body to turn glucose into energy. In diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin. Or the body does not use insulin well. With diabetes, too much glucose stays in the blood. It doesn’t get used by the body. Diabetes may be caused by other health conditions. These include genetic syndromes, chemicals, medicines, poor nutrition, infections, viruses, or other illnesses.

There are 3 types of diabetes mellitus:

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Gestational diabetes (this happens only in pregnancy)

These are all metabolic disorders that affect the way the body uses digested food to make glucose.

What is prediabetes?

In prediabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal. But they are not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. If no steps are taken to change this, many people with prediabetes could develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years. Prediabetes raises the risk for heart disease and stroke. But with healthy food choices, modest weight loss, and moderate physical activity, people with prediabetes may be able to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.

Teens and diabetes

The American Diabetes Association notes that about 283,000 people in the U.S. under age 20 have diabetes. Most of them have type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes used to occur mostly in adults ages 45 and older. But now it is more common in younger people. This is from rising rates of obesity in children and teens.

The teen years can be a challenge for any child as they go through sexual and emotional changes. It can be more of a challenge for teens with diabetes. Teens want to fit in. Being different in any way from their peers can be stressful.

A teen who used to follow their diabetes management plan may now refuse to do so. A teen may feel in denial of the disease. They may have aggressive behavior around managing diabetes. For example, some teens will skip insulin injections to lose weight.

One aspect of diabetes management is blood sugar control. This is especially hard during the teen years. Researchers believe the growth hormone made during teen years that causes bone and muscle growth may also act as an anti-insulin agent. Blood sugar levels become harder to control. This results in levels that swing from too low to too high. This lack of control over blood sugar levels can be very stressful for your teen.

Helping your teen cope

Open communication is vital between you and your teen with diabetes. Your teen wants to be treated as an adult. And that means letting them take charge of their own diabetes management plan. Teens looking forward to going away to college in a few years need to learn how to manage their diabetes themselves. These days, this means using apps and other ways of keeping track of their blood sugar on a continuous basis. They can do it, with help and encouragement from their families and healthcare providers. Parents should know that teens need:

  • Some freedom. The teen years are a time of wanting to be spontaneous, such as stopping for pizza after school. But a teen with diabetes needs to know that managing diabetes well can actually help with this. It will help give your teen the flexibility they crave.

  • Some control. Teens want to be in charge of their own lives. They want to create their own identities. To achieve this control, the teens will test limits. But a teen with diabetes can learn that having control over their diabetes also means having control over other parts of life.

Make sure the healthcare provider talks to your teen about their diabetes, not just you. If your teen trusts the provider, they are more likely to ask important questions that directly affect diabetes management. These include questions about alcohol use, smoking, and illegal drugs.

Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Dansinger MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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