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Adolescents and Diabetes Mellitus

Adolescents and Diabetes Mellitus 

What is diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder, a problem with how the body uses food. It is characterized by a failure to secrete enough insulin, or, the inability to use insulin. Because insulin is needed by the body to convert glucose into energy, these failures result excessively high levels of glucose in the blood and not enough energy. Diabetes may be a result of other conditions, such as genetic syndromes, chemicals, drugs, malnutrition, infections, viruses, or other illnesses.

The 3 main types of diabetes -- type 1, type 2, and gestational (during pregnancy only) -- are all defined as metabolic disorders that affect the way the body metabolizes, or uses, digested food to make glucose. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body.

What is prediabetes?

In prediabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes. However, many people with prediabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years. Prediabetes also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, people with prediabetes can delay or prevent development of type 2 diabetes.

Teens and diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association and the National Diabetes Education Program, about 215,000 people younger than 20 have diabetes. Most of them have type 1 diabetes. However, type 2 diabetes, a disease that used to be seen primarily in adults ages 45 and older, has become more common in younger people. This is mainly due to increasing rates of obesity in children and teens.

Although the teenage years can be a challenge for any child as he or she goes through sexual and emotional changes, it can be especially trying for adolescents with diabetes. Adolescents inherently want to "fit in." Being different in any way from his or her peers can be emotionally stressful, especially for the teenager.

The teen who previously complied very well with his or her diabetes management plan may now become rebellious and refuse to comply. A teen may also experience denial of the disease, or display increasingly aggressive behavior in reaction to the stress of managing diabetes, during a time in life that is challenging enough already.

One aspect of diabetes management, blood sugar control, is especially hard during adolescence. Researchers believe the growth hormone produced during adolescence to stimulate bone and muscle growth may also act as an anti-insulin agent. Blood sugar levels become harder to control, resulting in levels that swing from too low to too high. This lack of control over blood sugar levels can be very frustrating for your teenager.

Helping your teenager cope

Open communication between you and your teenager with diabetes is important during these years. You should recognize that your teenager 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 also recognize that teenagers need the following:

  • Spontaneity. Adolescence is a time of spontaneity, such as stopping for pizza after school. However, the teenager with diabetes also needs to realize that managing his or her diabetes successfully will give him or her the flexibility that is craved.

  • Control. Teenagers want to be in charge of their own lives and create their own identities. To achieve this control, the teenager will test limits. However, a teenager with diabetes can learn that, to exert control over his or her diabetes, means learning to gain control over other parts of life.

Reviewed Date: 02-06-2014

Diabetes
Sports Medicine and Adolescent Medicine
Dr. Joel Brenner
Dr. Aisha Joyce
Dr. David Smith
Endocrinology/Diabetology
Dr. Ayanna Butler-Cephas
Dr. Eric Gyuricsko
Dr. Kent Reifschneider
Dr. Reuben Rohn
Dr. Melissa Russell
Dr. Marta Satin-Smith
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The Growing Child: Adolescent (13 to 18 Years)
Type 1 Diabetes in Children
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Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.