Could Your Child Have Diabetes?

If your child has some of these symptoms, they could be signs of diabetes. Also learn what raises your child's risk of the disease.

About 13,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with type 1 or "juvenile" diabetes each year. That's 35 kids every day.

Type 2 diabetes used to be found only in adults. But with today's obesity epidemic, more children are getting type 2 diabetes. What's more, about two million teens - or one in six overweight teenagers - have blood sugar levels that are elevated but not yet in the diabetic range. This puts them at high risk of getting diabetes in the future.

With statistics like that, parents may worry that their child has diabetes. Here are the symptoms and risk factors to look out for.

Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed during childhood. People with type 1 diabetes have high blood sugar levels because their body does not make any or enough insulin. Insulin is important because it turns sugar into energy the body needs.

Signs of type 1 diabetes
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes may come on suddenly, sometimes appearing over a few days. Seek emergency medical help if your child has any of these signs:

  • Extreme thirst and/or hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurry vision or changes in vision
  • Fruity, sweet-smelling breath
  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme weakness and tiredness
  • Heavy, troubled breathing
  • Loss of consciousness or seeming "out of it"

Type 2 diabetes
People with type 2 diabetes have high glucose levels because either their bodies do not make enough insulin or their cells cannot use the insulin properly. It is often caused by a combination of both of these factors. Ninety percent to 95 percent of people with diabetes in the U.S. have type 2.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes
Signs of type 2 diabetes may develop more slowly or there may be no symptoms at all. Call your doctor right away if your child has one or more of these symptoms:

  • Any signs of type 1 diabetes
  • Frequent infections, especially skin, gum or bladder infections
  • Slow healing of wounds or sores
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

Only one way to find out
These symptoms don't always mean diabetes. They can be signs of other illnesses like the flu. Only your doctor can tell if your child has diabetes.

Your doctor will ask about your child's and family's medical history and do a physical exam. If diabetes is suspected, your child will have a blood test to check for diabetes.

If your child does have diabetes, don't panic. It is a serious condition, but it can be managed.

Your child's risk
If your child does not have diabetes, there are ways to cut his or her risk of type 2 diabetes. There is nothing you can to prevent type 1 diabetes. These factors increase your child's risk for type 2 diabetes:

  • Overweight
  • High cholesterol, especially high triglyceride levels
  • Low HDL or "good" cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Family members with type 2 diabetes
  • African, Hispanic, Asian or American-Indian heritage

These actions can help your child lower his or her risk for type 2 diabetes:

  • Losing weight, if he or she is overweight. Meet with your child's doctor or a registered dietitian. Do not put your child on a weight loss diet on your own. Kids need nutrients and calories to grow. A doctor or dietitian can give suggestions. Often, an increase in activity is enough.
  • Being active. Kids should be active for at least 60 minutes most days of the week. Limit your child's "screen" time (the time he or she spends watching TV, playing video games or socializing on the computer) and encourage active play. Get the whole family moving by bike riding or going on a weekend hike.
  • Making healthy food choices. A nutritious diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and nonfat and low-fat dairy. Saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars should be limited. Offer your child wholesome foods in appropriate portion sizes. Stock healthy snacks like fruit, vegetables, low-fat cheese and rice cakes.

Remember that you are your child's biggest influence. Eat healthily and make exercise a priority, and your child will likely follow suit.