Diabetes in Children

While diabetes is a serious condition for children, diabetes specialists at Rush University Children’s Hospital can help your child live a full and healthy life with the right medical treatments, expert disease management and lifestyle changes. 

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Caring for the whole child: Rush University Children’s Hospital has a dedicated, multidisciplinary care team for children and adolescents with diabetes, and their families. The team includes pediatric endocrinologists, pediatric psychologists, a registered pediatric dietitian, a certified diabetes educator, a pediatric diabetes nurse and a pediatric social worker. This approach enables our pediatric specialists to collaborate across disciplines and address your child’s specific needs, challenges and lifestyle.
  • Specialized care: Pediatricians and pediatric endocrinologists at Rush understand that any childhood illness or surgery can affect the blood sugar levels of kids who have diabetes. And they specialize in managing diabetes in the hospital setting. Most children with diabetes who need surgery and a hospital stay will have their blood sugar level monitored and treated by a pediatric endocrinology team member 24 hours a day.
  • Care close to home: Pediatric endocrinologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital are available to see patients at our Rush campus in Chicago, Rush Oak Park Hospital and Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora.

What is diabetes in children?

When your child has diabetes, their body can’t produce or effectively use insulin — an important hormone that carries the sugar (or glucose) in their bloodstream to inside cells, to be converted into energy.

If your child is producing too little insulin, their body is unable to use insulin properly (known as insulin resistance). This will then cause them to have persistent high blood sugars. If left untreated, high blood sugars can cause serious health problems over time like heart disease, kidney disease, nerve disease and circulation problems

Types of diabetes in children

There are two types of diabetes in children:

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes in children, also known as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease. With type 1 diabetes, your child’s immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas — the very organ that produces insulin.

Causes: The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but it may be a genetic condition — meaning children have genes that predispose them to the disease. Type 1 diabetes is not contagious, but a virus or infection can lead to the disease if your child carries type 1 diabetes genes.

Care: If your child has type 1 diabetes, they will need to have daily insulin shots or wear insulin pumps to regulate their blood sugar levels. This will help allow your child to continue enjoying the activities they love, while also reducing their risks for hospitalizations and long-term consequences associated with high blood sugars.

Management: Although there is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes, learning to manage the disease with your child can help them avoid complications and live a full life with diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is less common in children, but becoming more frequent. If your child has type 2 diabetes, their pancreas can still produce insulin, but their body does not use the insulin properly. This causes blood sugars to rise.

Causes: While the exact cause of type 2 diabetes is also unknown, type 2 diabetes is more closely associated with inactivity, an unhealthy diet and being overweight. Family history of diabetes — especially diabetes at a young age — and genetics can also play a role in type 2 diabetes.

Care: Sometimes diet changes alone can improve your child’s insulin action enough so they will not need medications to have normal glucose levels. Occasionally, a child with type 2 diabetes will need insulin injections and/or medications to keep their blood sugars normal.

Management: Learning how to manage your child’s medications and adjust their diet and activity are the most important ways you can help keep your child’s type 2 diabetes under control.

Symptoms of diabetes in children

Some children with diabetes do not have symptoms. Others may experience the following:

  • Excessive thirst and increased urination
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Dark, patchy skin on the back of the neck — this is called acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition that can indicate glucose intolerance, an early sign of type 2 diabetes

Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean your child has diabetes. Other conditions have similar symptoms. Your pediatrician and/or a pediatric endocrinologist at Rush can help you determine the root of the problem and the best course of action.

Care for diabetes in children at Rush

Diagnosing diabetes in children

Your child’s pediatrician can order a blood test to determine if your child has type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

If your child has either type, your pediatrician will refer you to a pediatric endocrinologist who specializes in caring for children with diabetes and managing their treatment. 

Medications

Many children who have type 1 and type 2 diabetes need daily insulin injections and other medications to keep their blood sugars at a normal level. Your child’s care team will work closely with you to determine the most effective treatment plan for your child’s specific needs and lifestyle.

Education

Learning how to properly manage both type 1 and type 2 diabetes is the key to helping your child live a healthy life with the disease.

Knowing how to manage the disease will help lower the risk of diabetes-related complications. Your child’s care team at Rush will provide education and support to you and your child. They will teach you how to do the following:

  • Monitor blood sugar levels — and how to respond if they are too low or too high
  • Use an insulin pump or take and distribute insulin shots
  • Appropriately take and distribute oral medication
  • Incorporate a healthy diabetes diet and exercise program into your child’s and your family’s lives
  • Work with the school nurse to help manage diabetes at school

Monitoring and management

Pediatric endocrinologists and other members of a specialized diabetes care team at Rush will closely monitor your child in order to improve their health and wellness, as well as prevent further complications. It’s important to monitor the following:

  • Blood glucose
  • Blood pressure
  • Lipid levels
  • Kidney function
  • Eyesight

Social and emotional support

If your child has diabetes, it can take a toll on their social and emotional  health — and can affect your entire family. Pediatric psychologists at Rush can help your whole family navigate the following:

  • Behavioral, mental or emotional challenges
  • Lifestyle changes for weight management
  • Managing stress
  • Concerns about your child’s mood, including depression and anxiety