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Little boy smiling on playground at preschool.

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your child’s blood glucose, also known as blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is the body’s main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy.

What are symptoms of diabetes?

  • Urinating a lot
  • Drinking a lot and often feeling thirsty
  • Eating a lot and often feeling hungry
  • Energy loss or often feeling tired
  • Weight loss Headaches, stomachaches, back pain, nausea or vomiting
  • Blurred distance vision or not being able to focus vision properly
  • Repeated skin infections

What are the types of diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. It is the most common type of diabetes found in children and young adults. When a child has Type 1 diabetes, his pancreas can no longer make insulin. The immune system gets confused, and attacks and kills the pancreas cells that make insulin, rather than recognizing them as a normal part of the body.

About 1 in 7 people with Type 1 diabetes have a family member who also has Type 1 diabetes. Children who have Type 1 diabetes can stay healthy by taking insulin injections every day. They can become very sick and even die if they cannot get insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is sometimes called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. And until recently, it has mainly affected only adults. Today, however, Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in children. Most kids with Type 2 diabetes have a family member with Type 2 diabetes. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, the immune system has nothing to do with Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes means your child’s body has a resistance to insulin, and his body doesn’t use insulin in the right way. Even though many children take medication or insulin injections to treat Type 2 diabetes, the most important part of treatment is to eat right and be active.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that affects the lungs and also causes pancreas problems. If the pancreas does not make enough insulin, diabetes may develop. Your child’s body may develop a resistance to insulin, which means it doesn't use insulin in the right way. Even though cystic fibrosis-related diabetes does not always cause symptoms, it usually needs to be treated with insulin injections.

Some medications, such as steroids, can temporarily raise blood glucose levels. People with diabetes will almost always need to change their diabetes treatment when they take steroid medications.

A woman is diagnosed with this type of diabetes when her blood glucose is too high during pregnancy. This can cause complications for the baby, including the baby being bigger than usual at birth, weighing more than 10 pounds at times.

Mothers who have gestational diabetes are at a high risk for getting Type 2 diabetes later in life. Children who are born to a mother with gestational diabetes are also at higher risk for being overweight and getting Type 2 diabetes when they are adults.

Because diabetes is a chronic, complex condition and usually a lifelong disease that affects the whole body, our team at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta works with a number of specialists when needed to provide coordinated, comprehensive care. We also draw from resources and services across Children’s and throughout the community to give you and your child all the care and support you need.

We offer complete clinical care, including:

  • Diagnosis and determination of the type of diabetes
  • Testing for related conditions, such as thyroid disease
  • Screening for young family members when appropriate
  • Management of medication and help with insulin treatment
  • Preventive care, such as HbA1c and lipid testing
  • Insulin pumps and other technology
Doctor visits with diabetes patient at bedside.

Children with diabetes are at risk for other physical and mental health issues. We work with a range of Children’s specialists and professionals to also help diagnose, treat and manage conditions like:

The immune system of children with Type 1 diabetes sometimes attacks other organs besides the pancreas. Immune cell reactions against the thyroid gland are the most common, and they can cause the gland to become overactive or underactive. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ in the neck that controls the speed of everything in your body. When a child’s thyroid hormone is too low, things move too slowly. When it is too high, things move too quickly.

Celiac disease causes the intestines to react against proteins in grains, including wheat, rye and barley. Children with Type 1 diabetes are at high risk for having celiac disease. Symptoms can be severe, including slow growth and diarrhea. Some children with celiac disease do not know they have symptoms until after they are treated and realize how much better they feel.

Cholesterol and triglycerides are types of fat that travel in the blood to all the cells of the body. Children with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are at risk of having high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. If these levels are high for many years, they can raise the risk of heart attack or stroke. Usually, the only way to know if cholesterol and triglycerides are too high is to do a blood test. Some children need to take medication to keep their levels safe.

Some children and families have a hard time coping after a diabetes diagnosis. Counseling and other steps can help. Talk to your doctor about options to get support.

Living with diabetes might seem overwhelming at first; after diagnosis, you and your child will have a lot to learn. Children’s is here for you. We offer information, classes and other resources for you and your child, and we are always available if you have questions or concerns. Here are some resources to help you get started.

Online resources