Diabetes - about diabetes
diabetes; mellitus; hypo; hypos; hypoglycaemia; hyper; hyperglycaemia; blood; sugar; glucose; chronic; illness; puberty; IDDM; juvenile; onset; ketoacidosis; puberty;
Diabetes (diabetes mellitus) happens when the body can't use glucose for energy because it doesn’t have any or enough insulin. Insulin controls how much glucose (which is the energy source we get from food) can pass from the blood into body’s cells.
There is information about what it can be like to live with diabetes in the topic 'Diabetes - living with diabetes'.
If a person who is known to have diabetes becomes confused, obviously unwell, drowsy or unconscious, that person needs urgent help. He or she may have very low levels of blood glucose (hypoglycaemia – 'hi-po-gly-see-mia') or ketoacidosis ('key-toe-acid-o-sis'). See the topic 'Diabetes – managing diabetes in childhood' for more information about what to do for hypoglycaemia and ketoacidosis.
There are two main types of diabetes mellitus.
Type 1 Diabetes mellitus (sometimes called ‘juvenile onset diabetes’ or ‘insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM)) usually starts in childhood or early adult life, most commonly before teenage years. It is due to damage to beta-cells in the pancreas, so that they do not make the hormone insulin.
Type 2 Diabetes mellitus (also called ‘mature onset diabetes’ or non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus) usually starts later in life, usually when the person is over 40 years old. However, it is occurring more often now in much younger people, especially people who are very overweight. Although people with type 2 diabetes usually make some insulin, it is not enough, or it does not work well.
There is also gestational diabetes which happens during pregnancy (have a look at the topic Diabetes in pregnancy), and diabetes insipidus, a quite different sort of problem.
This topic focuses only on type 1 diabetes mellitus.
With type 1 diabetes, young people have no insulin, so they need:
- to get insulin by injection several times each day
- to be careful about what they eat, how much they exercise, drinking alcohol and using tobacco and drugs
- to be in control of their diabetes
- to understand that people with diabetes are able to do pretty much everything that other people are able to do.
Our topic on the Parenting and Child Health section of this site called 'Diabetes in childhood' contains a lot of information about the causes of diabetes and its effects and complications.
There is a lot of research going on world wide to find a cure for diabetes, including seeking ways of transplanting insulin-making tissue – but there is no cure for diabetes yet.
Every person who has type 1 diabetes should have their own diabetes management plan and a team of workers they can seek information and help from.
Someone with type 1 diabetes will need to regularly monitor their:
- blood glucose level
At the moment, insulin will need to be injected every day for the rest of their life. The topic 'Diabetes - managing diabetes in childhood' goes into detail about diet, insulin, monitoring blood glucose, exercise and most of the questions that are usually asked.
If you have had diabetes for a while, you and your parents may be very used to managing your diabetes. If it has only recently been diagnosed, they may be very anxious and want to help more than you feel is needed (parents are like that!)
As you get older, your diabetes management team and your parents will help you to take control of managing your diabetes – you might start to see health workers by yourself, and gradually take over managing your own record-keeping.
All doctors, dietitians and others who work with people with diabetes know that people are not perfect. If you do 'go out of control' it is best to 'own up' and work out some plans for next time, rather than pretending that every thing is OK.
Some things that you will have to manage more strictly than other young people include:
- meal times (missing meals can lead to problems)
- sleep-ins (you may have to wake up early to eat or have your insulin)
- alcohol (using it can make things complicated)
- exercise (you may need to carry extra food)
- choosing not to smoke and avoiding being around others who smoke (it makes some of the negative effects of diabetes worse).
All young people want to be able to do things that their friends can do. Parents want to keep their kids safe, and want to know where they are, and when they will be home, even if they don’t have diabetes.
- If you do have diabetes, it is likely that you will need to show your parents you are even more reliable than other kids to get the freedom you want, which can be stressful.
- Someone in your diabetes management team may be able to help you negotiate reasonable expectations with your parents.
Remember that all young people have problems with their parents about rules – it’s about growing up and changing relationships.
During puberty, most young people need to eat a lot more food, and their diabetes may be more difficult to control for a while (though some find it easier). This is when you need to know a lot about your diabetes, so that you can manage what is going on. Some young women also find that their periods affect diabetes control.
If you are not managing as well as you used to be able, check with your diabetes team, as they will have some ideas about what to do.
In other ways, you will go through all of the normal changes of puberty (physical, social and emotional). Diabetes will probably not be the main cause of most of the difficulties that you get into. Check out our topics on puberty to understand what is happening to your body.
“If you find yourself getting angry about things, don't just blame the diabetes. Don't let others blame the diabetes either. Everyone has problems at times. Part of growing up is learning to cope with problems. Diabetes may be a health problem you have, but it should not be a cause of illness, anger or depression, social difficulties and not coping”.
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in Australia:
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Diabetes Service:
Children with diabetes (USA):
Information in other languages
Australian Diabetes Council
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).