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What's Diabetes?

Type 2 Diabetes: What Is It?

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There are two major types of diabetes, but they don’t have very exciting names. They’re called type 1 and type 2. Let’s find out about type 2 diabetes (say: dye-uh-BEE-tees), a health problem that affects kids and adults.

What Is Diabetes?

What Happens in Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose (say: GLOO-kose), a sugar that is the body’s main source of fuel. Like a CD player needs batteries, your body needs glucose to keep running. Here’s how it should work:

  1. You eat.
  2. Glucose from the food gets into your bloodstream.
  3. Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin (say: IN-suh-lin).
  4. Insulin helps the glucose get into the body’s cells.
  5. Your body gets the energy it needs.

The pancreas is a long, flat gland in your belly that helps your body digest food. It also makes insulin. Insulin is kind of like a key that opens the doors to the cells of the body. It lets the glucose in. Then the glucose can move out of the blood and into the cells.

But if someone has diabetes, the body either can’t make insulin or the insulin doesn’t work in the body like it should. The glucose can’t get into the cells normally, so the blood sugar level gets too high. Lots of sugar in the blood makes people sick if they don’t get treatment.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause high blood sugar levels in different ways.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can’t make insulin. The body can still get glucose from food. But the glucose can’t get into the cells, where it’s needed. Glucose stays in the blood. This makes the blood sugar level very high.

Type 2 diabetes is different. With type 2, the pancreas still makes insulin. But the insulin doesn’t do its job as well in the body. Glucose just hangs around and builds up in the blood. The pancreas makes even more insulin to get glucose to go into the cells, but eventually gets worn out from working so hard. As a result, the blood sugar levels rise too high.

Most people who have type 2 diabetes are overweight. In the past, mainly overweight adults got type 2 diabetes. Today, more kids are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, probably because more kids are overweight.

Experts think that the tendency to get it is probably passed down through families. Kids with family members who have type 2 diabetes get diabetes more often. Also, kids from Native American, African American, Hispanic/Latino, or Asian/Pacific Island backgrounds are also more likely to get type 2 diabetes. Kids older than 10 are more likely to get type 2 diabetes than younger kids.

How Do People Know if They Have Type 2 Diabetes?

Some kids can have type 2 diabetes without knowing it. Some of the signs aren’t easy to spot and can take a long time to develop. And a lot of kids don’t have any symptoms at all.

But when a person first gets type 2 diabetes, he or she usually:

  • feels tired a lot because the body can’t use sugar for energy properly
  • pees a lot because the body tries to get rid of the extra blood sugar by passing it out of the body in the urine (pee)
  • drinks a lot to make up for all that peeing

The skin can look different in some kids with type 2 diabetes. They may notice a dark ring around their necks that doesn’t wash off. They may also see thick, dark, velvety skin under the arms, between the legs, between fingers and toes, or on elbows and knees.

How do you find out whether you have diabetes? Doctors can say for sure if a person has diabetes by testing blood samples for glucose. Even if a kid doesn’t have any symptoms of type 2 diabetes, doctors may use blood tests to check for it in kids who are more likely to get it — like those who are overweight.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you may visit a doctor called a pediatric endocrinologist (say: pee-dee-AH-trik en-duh-krih-NOL-eh-jist). A pediatric endocrinologist helps kids with diabetes, growth problems, and more.

Living With Type 2 Diabetes

Kids with type 2 diabetes have to pay a little more attention to what they’re eating and doing than kids without diabetes. They may need to:

  • follow a healthy eating plan so they can keep blood sugar levels under control and grow normally
  • exercise regularly
  • take insulin shots or medicines that help insulin work better in their bodies
  • check their blood sugar levels
  • get treatment for other health problems that can happen more often in people with type 2 diabetes, like high blood pressure or problems with the levels of fats in their blood
  • have regular checkups with doctors and other people on their diabetes health care team so they can stay healthy and get treatment for any diabetes problems

They might have to eat smaller amounts of foods than they had been and less salt or fat, too. The good news is that kids who eat healthy foods, stay active, and get to a good weight might be able to get their blood sugar levels into a healthier range. If that happens, their doctors may decide they don’t have to take medicine for diabetes anymore.

Even though kids with diabetes have to do some special things, diabetes doesn’t keep them from doing the stuff they love. They can still play sports, go out with their friends, and go on trips. So if you have a friend with diabetes, let him or her know you can deal with it. Being friends is all about having fun together, not having a perfect blood sugar level!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2015