Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adolescents. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, about 186,300 people under the age of 20 years have diabetes. This represents 0.2 percent of all people in this age group. The prevalence of children diagnosed with diabetes has increased significantly over the last two decades. Diabetes is caused due to the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas or their inability to produce insulin. The diagnosis of diabetes in children is often a life-changing experience that requires careful attention of the family, school environment and care providers. It is often difficult to classify the correct diabetes type in children at the time of diagnosis because symptoms may be similar.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or juvenile diabetes, can be diagnosed at any age, but most commonly happens in children and adolescents. In the United States and Canada, about one in 300 to 400 school-age children are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which leads to the destruction of most of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The destruction of the cells in the pancreas may happen months or years prior to the appearance of the common symptoms of diabetes, such as thirst and frequent urination. To control the high glucose levels in the bloodstream, children are required to administer insulin by daily injections or use insulin pumps by continuous insulin infusion. Diabetic children and their families need to pay continuous attention to meal planning, blood monitoring, urine and other factors. Children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes are usually not obese and only about 5 percent of the patients have a related family history of the disease.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or adult-onset diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes (90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases in adults). This chronic disease is associated with older age, obesity, physical inactivity, family history of diabetes and race/ethnicity. In Type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin (insulin resistance), which result in high glucose levels in the blood.
Although still rare, Type 2 diabetes is now being diagnosed in growing numbers of children and adolescents, mainly because the increasing frequency of overweight children and lack of exercise. As it usually begins with mild or no symptoms, it is difficult to diagnose Type 2 diabetes in children.
Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY) is a rare group of diabetes disorders that affects about 2 percent of diabetes patients, usually in adolescent and people younger than 25 years of age, with no ethnic group preference. MODY results from defects to insulin-producing cells caused by a genetic defect that runs in families through several generations. People with MODY do not produce enough insulin, but do not always need insulin treatment and can often be treated with diabetes pills or meal planning alone. MODY is often not properly diagnosed and people may be treated as Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes patients.
Other types of diabetes in children and adolescents may result from surgery, medications, infections, pancreatic disease and other illnesses. Such types of diabetes account for 1 to 5 percent of all diagnosed cases.
About this Author
Tamar Sapir is an experienced scientist and biomedical writer with a Ph.D. in biotechnology and cell biology. Sapir has more than 12 years of experience in stem cell therapies for diabetes patients, molecular and developmental biology.