What Is Diabetes? Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose (pronounced: GLOO-kose), a sugar that is the body's main source of fuel. Your body needs glucose to keep running. Here's how it should work. You eat. Glucose from the food enters your bloodstream. Your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin (pronounced: IN-suh-lin). Insulin helps the glucose get into the body's cells. 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 in diabetes, either the body 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. What Is Type 1 Diabetes? There are two major types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Each type causes high blood sugar levels in a different way. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can't make insulin. That's because the body's immune system attacked the pancreas and destroyed the cells that make insulin. When a person has type 1 diabetes, the body still can get glucose from food, but the lack of insulin means that glucose can't get into the cells where it's needed. So the glucose stays in the blood. This makes the blood sugar level very high and causes health problems. Once a person has type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can't ever make insulin again. To fix this problem, someone who has type 1 diabetes needs to take insulin through regular shots or an insulin pump. Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still makes insulin. But the insulin doesn't work in the body like it should and blood sugar levels get too high. What Causes Type 1 Diabetes? No one knows for sure what causes type 1 diabetes, but scientists think it has something to do with genes. Genes are like instructions for how the body should look and work that are passed on by parents to their kids. But just getting the genes for diabetes isn't usually enough. In most cases, something else has to happen — like getting a viral infection — for a person to develop type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes can't be prevented. Doctors can't even tell who will get it and who won't. What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes? People can have diabetes without knowing it because the symptoms aren't always obvious and they can take a long time to develop. Type 1 diabetes may come on gradually or suddenly. When a person first has type 1 diabetes, he or she may: pee a lot because the body tries to get rid of the extra blood sugar by passing it out of the body in the urine drink a lot to make up for all that peeing eat a lot because the body is hungry for the energy it can't get from sugar lose weight because the body starts to use fat and muscle for fuel feel tired all the time Also, girls who have developed diabetes are more likely to get vaginal yeast infections before they're diagnosed and treated. If these early symptoms of diabetes aren't recognized and treatment isn't started, chemicals can build up in the blood and cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, breathing problems, and even loss of consciousness. Doctors call this diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA. There's good news, though — getting treatment can control or stop these diabetes symptoms from happening and reduce the risk of long-term problems. How Is Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosed? Doctors can say for sure if a person has diabetes by testing blood samples for glucose. If the doctor suspects that a kid or teen has diabetes, he or she may send the person to see a pediatric endocrinologist — a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating children and teens living with diseases of the endocrine system, such as diabetes and growth problems. How Is Type 1 Diabetes Treated? People with type 1 diabetes have to pay a little more attention to what they're eating and doing than people who don't have diabetes. They need to: check blood sugar levels as prescribed give themselves insulin injections or use an insulin pump as prescribed eat a healthy, balanced diet with accurate carbohydrate counts get regular exercise 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 What's it Like for Teens With Type 1 Diabetes? Sometimes people who have diabetes feel different from their friends because they need to take insulin, think about how they eat, and control their blood sugar levels every day. Some teens with diabetes want to deny that they even have it. They might hope that if they ignore diabetes, it will just go away. They may feel angry, depressed, helpless, or that their parents are constantly worrying about their diabetes management. If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, it's normal to feel like your world has been turned upside down. Your doctor or diabetes health care team is there to provide answers and support. Don't hesitate to ask your doctors, dietitian, and other treatment professionals for advice and tips. It also can help to find support groups where you can talk about your feelings and find out how other teens cope. Diabetes brings challenges, but teens who have it play sports, travel, date, go to school, and work just like their friends. Back to Articles Related Articles Diabetes Center Our Diabetes Center provides information and advice for teens about treating and living with diabetes. Read More Can Diabetes Be Prevented? The things you do now could help prevent diabetes later, depending on the type of diabetes. Here's the scoop on diabetes prevention. Read More Eating Out When You Have Diabetes Dining out is probably a part of your social scene. If you have diabetes, you can pretty much eat the same foods as your friends and family. You just have to keep track of what you eat and enjoy certain foods in moderation. Read More Medicines for Diabetes Taking medicines is a major part of staying healthy if you have diabetes because they help you keep your blood sugar levels under control. Read More Type 1 Diabetes: How Is It Treated? People with type 1 diabetes need to follow a treatment plan to manage their diabetes and stay healthy and active. Read More Diabetes Control: Why It's Important People who have diabetes may hear or read a lot about controlling, or managing, the condition. But what is diabetes control and why is it so important? Read More Diabetes: When to Call the Doctor Taking care of your diabetes includes knowing when to call a doctor and get medical help. Read More Keeping Track of Your Blood Sugar To keep your diabetes under control, stay healthy, and prevent future problems, you need to keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. To do that, check and track those levels regularly. Read More Your Diabetes Health Care Team It takes all of your team members — you, your parents, doctors, certified diabetes educators, dietitians, and mental health pros — to help you take care of your diabetes. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. 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