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Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which a person has too much glucose (sugar) in their blood. Experts believe the disease develops in children the same way it does in adults. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body's cells use glucose for energy. Without insulin, the glucose can't get into the cells to do its work. It stays in the blood instead. This can cause high blood glucose levels.
Over time, high blood glucose can damage a child's eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys. High blood glucose also makes a child more likely to get serious illnesses or infections.
In the past, doctors believed that type 2 diabetes was an adult disease and that type 1 diabetes was a children's disease. Now, more and more children are getting type 2 diabetes.
Most children with type 2 diabetes don't have symptoms when the disease is first found. If a child has symptoms, they usually are mild. They may include having to urinate more often, feeling a little more thirsty than normal, and losing a little weight for no clear reason.
A simple blood test is usually all that is needed to diagnose diabetes. A doctor may do this test if your child has risk factors for diabetes, such as being overweight. Some children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when they have a blood or urine test for some other reason.
Treatment of type 2 diabetes in children focuses on keeping blood glucose levels within a target range. To reach this target range, your child needs to eat healthy meals with the right portion size and get some exercise each day. Treatment also may include medicine.
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Experts don't know exactly what causes type 2 diabetes. But they do know some things that increase a child's risk. The main ones are:
A child's risk is also higher if the child:footnote 1
Helping your child stay at a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet, and get regular exercise can help prevent type 2 diabetes. Some children may need to lose weight if they are overweight and have reached adult height. In some severe cases, weight loss may be needed before a child reaches full adult height.
Prediabetes increases a child's risk for type 2 diabetes. If your child has prediabetes, eating a healthy diet and getting more exercise may return your child's blood sugar to a normal range, and it might prevent type 2 diabetes. Your child will still need to see a doctor regularly to check for signs of diabetes.
Most children with type 2 diabetes don't have symptoms when the disease is first found. That's because their blood glucose level has been rising so slowly. As a result, a child may have diabetes for several months or years before being diagnosed.
If a child has symptoms, they usually are mild. The most common ones are:
Other possible symptoms include:
Over time, type 2 diabetes can lead to serious problems such as:
The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely these problems are. Children who have type 2 diabetes may have a higher risk of problems because they will have diabetes for a long time. Keeping their blood glucose in the target range every day may help to delay or prevent some of these problems.
Diabetes can also cause growth and development problems.
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if your child:
Less common in type 2 diabetes is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which has symptoms similar to those of hyperosmolar state. But DKA is still possible and very dangerous.
Call a doctor now if your child:
Check with your doctor if your child:
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. It's not a good choice if:
A simple blood test is usually all that is needed to diagnose diabetes. A doctor may do a blood sugar (glucose) test if your child has any risk factors for diabetes, such as being overweight or getting little or no exercise. The doctor may repeat the test to confirm the diagnosis.
The doctor may do other blood tests if it's not clear whether your child has type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Treatment of type 2 diabetes in children focuses on keeping blood glucose levels within a target range. Treatment includes:
Children who have diabetes need healthy meals that provide the right amount of calories and carbohydrates.
Being active helps the body use insulin correctly and helps control weight. Starting at age 5, children need at least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous activity every day.
A child who is overweight may need to lose weight (or stay at the same weight). This depends on age, development, and other risk factors.
Your child's blood glucose level may need to be checked regularly.
Childhood and the teen years are a hard time to be diagnosed with diabetes. You play a major role in helping your child manage this disease. Try to set a good example. It will be easier for your child if the rest of the family also eats well and gets regular exercise.
Starting at age 6, kids need at least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous activity every day. It's okay for a child to be active in smaller blocks of time that add up to 1 hour or more each day. Your child doesn't have to start a strict exercise program, but being more active can help control blood glucose.
You and your child will need to monitor your child's blood glucose. This will help you learn how different foods and activities affect your child's blood glucose. Your doctor can teach you and your child how to do this.
A child with type 1 diabetes may take several injections a day or use an insulin pump. A child with type 2 diabetes may need to take insulin for a while when first diagnosed or during illness or surgery. In time, a child may need daily insulin.
Let your child do as much of the care as possible. But provide support and guidance as needed.
There are things you can do at home to help your child who has type 2 diabetes stay well and avoid the need for emergency treatment.
Even when you are careful and do all the right things, your child can have problems with high or low blood glucose. It's important to know what signs to look for and what to do if this happens.
In an emergency, a medical alert bracelet, necklace, or a temporary tattoo lets people know that your child has diabetes so they can provide the right care.
Work with your doctor or diabetes educator to make a sick-day plan for your child. Discuss your child's target blood glucose goal during an illness. Know how to adjust the insulin dose and timing (if your child takes insulin) and when to contact your doctor for help.
Make a plan to handle your child's special needs, such as knowing the symptoms of high or low blood glucose and how to treat them.
Diabetes can interfere with the body's ability to fight infection. So even a minor foot injury could lead to a serious infection.
Some children and teens may have trouble keeping their blood glucose in a healthy range. Support groups can share encouragement and suggestions that may help you and your child deal with the daily issues of diabetes care. Ask your doctor about groups in your area.
Medicines that may be prescribed for children with type 2 diabetes are:
This is the medicine of choice for children with type 2 diabetes. It is taken as a pill.
Your doctor may suggest insulin if metformin doesn't keep your child's blood glucose in the target range. Insulin can be taken as a shot (injection) or through an insulin pump .
CitationsDiabetes Canada Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee, et al. (2018). Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents. Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 42(Suppl 1): S247–S254. DOI: 10.1016/j.jcjd.2017.10.037. Accessed October 15, 2018.
Adaptation Date: 1/4/2023
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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