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Teens and Diabetes Mellitus 

What is diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder. It is a problem with how the body uses sugar (glucose). Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body. Insulin is a hormone needed by the body to turn glucose into energy. It is made in the pancreas. Diabetes causes the pancreas to not make enough insulin. Or it causes the body to 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 of other health conditions. These include genetic syndromes, chemicals, medicines, poor nutrition, infections, viruses, or other illnesses.

There are 3 main 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 not high enough to be defined as diabetes. But, many people with prediabetes go on to get type 2 diabetes within 10 years. Prediabetes raises the risk for heart disease and stroke. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, people with prediabetes can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.

Teens and diabetes

The American Diabetes Association notes that about 208,000 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 he or she goes 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 his or her peers can be stressful.

A teen who used to follow his or her diabetes management plan may now refuse to do so. A teen may feel in denial of the disease. He or she 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 adolescence 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, even if that means letting him or her take charge of his or her own diabetes management plan. Parents should know that teens need:

  • Spontaneity. The teen years are a time of spontaneity, 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 he or she craves.

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

Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2019
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