Signs and Symptoms of Pediatric Diabetes

For many years, the most common type of diabetes in children has been Type 1. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system damages the cells in the pancreas that manufacture insulin, which is the hormone that controls blood glucose levels. Type 1 used to be called juvenile-onset diabetes, as it often begins in childhood. Children with Type 1 are insulin-dependent. Without it, too much sugar stays in the blood.

Type 2 diabetes was previously referred to as adult-onset diabetes, but it is becoming more common in adolescents with the rise in childhood obesity. With this type of diabetes, the pancreas produces some insulin, but does not make or use it well. Type 2 is typically non-insulin-dependent and can be managed with nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, Type 2 tends to progress and diabetes medications are often needed.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes in Children?

When a child’s blood sugar is high, you may notice the following signs:

  • They are extremely thirsty or hungry
  • They need to urinate more frequently than usual, or are wetting the bed
  • They are fatigued
  • They experience blurry vision
  • Any infections or injuries they have take longer to heal

Diagnosing Diabetes

A health care professional can diagnose diabetes through blood tests that will show your blood glucose levels. If levels are too high, it is an indicator of diabetes. Type 2 in young people is most often diagnosed around the time of puberty, because insulin resistance normally increases at this time.

Diabetes can be discovered through routine checkups, where elevated blood sugar levels indicate diabetes, even without other signs and symptoms. Lab testing can also confirm a diabetes diagnosis; there are a few types of tests, including:

Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test - This test measures your blood glucose level at a single point in time. This is usually administered in the morning after fasting for eight hours.

A1C tests - Provides your average levels of glucose over the past three months. Fasting is not necessary for A1C tests. The results come in the form of a percentage, which indicates your average blood glucose levels.

Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) - This is a two hour test also administered after fasting for ten hours. A clinician will draw a blood sample to test glucose levels, after which the child drinks all of a high sugar drink within five minutes. After two hours, a second blood sample is drawn and tested. The results of each will indicate a diabetes diagnosis.

Random plasma glucose (RPG) test - The primary screening for Type 1 diabetes, a blood sample is taken at a random time.

Diagnosis A1C FPG OGTT RPG
Normal Below 5.7% 99 or below 139 or below
Prediabetes 5.7-6.4% 100-125 140-199
Diabetes 6.5% or above 126 or above 200 or above 200 or above

Learn more about Lifespan's Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes Center.