Type 2 Diabetes in Children: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic metabolic condition that is more frequently reported in the adults over the age of 30. However, over the past two decades, a dramatic increase has been observed in the number of type 2 diabetic subjects under the age of 18 (from 5% in 1994 to about 20% according to latest statistics). The increasing numbers of type 2 juvenile diabetic subjects has alerted many health organizations to identify the pathogenesis of this “emergency epidemic.”

Why Does Type 2 Diabetes Happen in Children?

Diabetes is a disorder in which the blood sugar levels are persistently high. Under normal conditions, ingestion of the sugar rich food is almost inadvertently followed with the release of insulin hormone that promotes the peripheral utilization of dietary sugars. Sugar is the primary fuel that your body requires to perform all the vital functions like breathing, circulation and digestion. Diabetes is the result of substantial decrease in the basal rate of secretion of insulin due to autoimmune conditions (type 1) or loss of sensitivity towards the insulin hormone (type 2). In either cases, blood sugar levels get high, which further leads to other pathologies.

Type 1 diabetes occurs usually because of the genetic abnormalities, but type 2 is mostly associated with poor dietary habits and obesity. In type 2 diabetes, the excess glucose stimulates the release of insulin via endocrine gland–pancreas that is located behind the stomach. The amount of insulin that is produced depends upon the amount of glucose present in the blood. When a person consumes too much sugary food, the cells become resistant to the hormone, and after a certain point, they stop responding to insulin. In response to hyperglycemia, the gland strives to produce more and more insulin which is useless for body. This overworks the gland, so the gland loses the ability to make insulin in the long term, leading to type 2 diabetes. Obesity has a strong connection with type 2 diabetes and thus, risk is much higher in obese children.

What Are the Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes in Children?

Here is a list of general risk factors that may lead to type 2 diabetes in children:

  • Genetic factors. If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, you are more vulnerable than a normal individual to develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Ethnicity. Studies have shown that African-Americans, Latinos and Hispanics are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Gender.Type 2 diabetes is more common in female.
  • Puberty. Puberty is the time of maturation and growth, resistance of cells towards insulin can also occur at this phase of development.
  • Obesity. Perhaps the most common reason behind type 2 diabetes is weight issues. According to the studies, almost 20% children in the U.S. are overweight, which explains the epidemic of diabetes and other metabolic issues. Rising obesity can be attributed to little physical activity, improper diet and existing health issues, especially hormonal imbalance. These reasons must be addressed primarily in order to keep a normal weight and decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

What Are the Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes in Children?

Type 2 diabetes in children doesn’t develop rapidly. Some children may show no symptoms while some may show symptoms as below:

  • Frequent urination. Increased solute concentration affects the capacity of kidneys to reabsorb water, which is why a lot of people may experience frequent urination that leads to state of intracellular dehydration and more intense thirst.
  • Weight issues. Because the body cells are not being supplied with enough nutrients, many children tend to lose weight.
  • Appetite issues.The body is in need of energy. Despite having excessive sugar in the blood, it is unable to utilize it. As a result, your brain senses that the body must be fed, which is why an overall increase in appetite is seen among diabetic patients.
  • Fatigue.The children may be very tired and moody because their cells are lack of sugar.  
  • Vision issues. The lenses of your child’s eyes could be largely affected when their blood sugar is too much over the normal levels.
  • Darkened skin. Dark patches in the neck and armpit region may indicate insulin resistance.
  • Poor healing ability. The children are unable to heal and resist infection as a normal individual does.

When to see a doctor:

It is best to take your child to a doctor for regular checkups if he is overweight or obese. If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes or you are African-American or Hispanic, take extra cautions. Black patches on your child’s skin and an abnormal fluctuation in the appetite are also symptoms to look out for, especially if he is predisposed to diabetes.

How to Treat Type 2 Diabetes in Children?

1. Monitor Blood Sugar

Depending on what type of medication (if any) your child needs, you need to check and record your child’s blood sugar at least daily, possibly more often, depending on what medication he/she is taking. Ask your child’s doctor how often to test and what range the blood sugar should be.

2. Eat Healthy

Adding fruits, vegetables and low-sugar substitutes are the primary changes that should be made in your child’s diet after being diagnosed with diabetes. It is not necessary to completely avoid sugar though, as it is necessary for the body at some level, but keeping a check on the calories is utmost important.

3. Exercise Regularly

Physical workout is necessary in both shedding the extra weight and keeping up with the metabolism. Physical workout is also advised to individuals who are at a risk of having diabetes. An hour of workout session is best if incorporated in daily life.

4. Use Medications

Medication such as metformin, insulin injections and wireless insulin pumps are prescribed to maintain blood glucose levels in normal.

5. Try Insulin Therapy

Insulin therapy provides your body with a supply of insulin to convert excess glucose. It can be administered as pumps or through injections, at certain times during the day, depending on your physical activity and meal hours. Insulin glargine is a long acting insulin that is administered in children who are refractory to other hypoglycemic treatments.  

Watch this video to have a better understanding of type 2 diabetes in children:

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