Symptoms of Diabetes in Children and Adults

Diabetes does not play favorites in the world of diseases. It can appear in males and females. It does not discriminate based on age. It can develop in an infant, a child, a teen, an adult and a senior. If you want to detect the disease before it has progressed into a later stage, it is important that you be able to recognize the signs and symptoms in the young and the old, a child and an adult.

Symptoms of Diabetes in the Child

It is often difficult to determine whether a child has diabetes from the symptoms alone. In many cases, there is no family history of the disease. The parents may not even be aware of the potential problem or risks. As a result, they do not recognize or understand the symptoms when they first appear.

Adding further to the problem is the issues concerning communication with children. Children do not or cannot communicate symptoms, or they do not feel comfortable expressing certain problems to their parent or parents. In the past, children tended to mostly develop type 1 diabetes (T1D), and until recently, rarely got Type 2 (T2D).  In fact, statistics indicate that T1D affects approximately 1 out of every 400 to 600 children and adolescents which is significant.[1] However, these statistics are changing as more children become overweight or obese leading to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Neither form of diabetes, type 1 or type 2, is known for presenting its symptoms suddenly in a child. They are both characterized by a slow onset and showing few or no symptoms at all for a long while. In fact, T2D may not be discovered until the child undergoes a physical examination which includes blood work. T1D, which tends to occur mostly in children of school age, may exhibit symptoms, but the child may not wish to discuss them due to embarrassment or lack of knowledge.

Yet, parents can watch for indications a child may have diabetes. The most prominent of these is polyuria – frequent urination. This may include episodes of bed wetting.

Caregivers need to be aware of the following possible symptoms of diabetes:

  • Loss of weight
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Being extra thirsty (dehydrated)
  • Breath that smells like acetone

These are symptoms common to both types of diabetes. They are also characteristic of diabetes in both adults and children. However, there are also symptoms that may show up in a child but are not typical in adults. They include the following:[2]

  • Stomach pains
  • Headaches
  • Behavioral problems like unexplained irritability

When learning about the onset and treatment of diabetes, there is one further precaution to keep in mind concerning diabetes and children. Several studies indicate that parents tend to over report the severity of problems out of worry.[3] There may be a discrepancy between what parents and children say. Be sure, therefore, that you talk to the child to learn as much as you can about how he or she is feeling and any concerns that might be worrying the child. Parents or caregivers will have to match what the child says to possible symptoms of diabetes that have been noted.

If there is any family history of diabetes in the family, adults need to monitor their child or children regularly.

Symptoms of Diabetes in the Adult

Adults may develop type 1 diabetes; however, it is more common for them to develop type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult onset diabetes. The symptoms in adults may or may not be overt. The following are characteristic of either form of diabetes as presented in an adult.[5]

  • Frequent urination (polyuria)
  • Increased hunger
  • Thirst increases
  • Unusual weight gain or loss
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Wounds that refuse to heal
  • A tingling or numbness in your feet or fingers
  • Sexual dysfunction

If you have any of these symptoms or are concerned about developing medical problems, talk to your doctor right away. They could be something totally unrelated to diabetes, indications of prediabetes or symptoms of diabetes.

Diagnosis

Typically, adult diabetes is diagnosed not by the individual but by the physician. The diagnosis can only be made with blood and urine testing. This testing may be done incidentally and not related to any particular symptoms. For example, the urine is usually tested for insurance purposes or the blood is routinely tested for various other conditions.

Awareness

Awareness is the key in preventing diabetes from developing (T2D) or progressing (T1D and T2D). In addition to a possible genetic connection, it is important to understand the connection between a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, stress and the onset of diabetes. While those with T1D may have a genetic trigger set to go off when the person meets the right environmental factor, those at high risk of developing T2D can predict and reduce that risk by living a healthier lifestyle.

A logical and well-thought-out plan to reduce the risk of developing diabetes includes maintaining a normal weight, eating a well balanced diet and getting regular exercise. You have a lot of control over the development of T2D. Research your options, talk to a doctor and then implement your plan.

Conclusion

Diabetes can strike children and adults alike. It is a disease that does not discriminate based on age or gender. However, the presentation of symptoms may vary among age groups. Children may not be able to express or do not communicate their symptoms effectively to caregivers. Further complicating the issue is the lack of overt symptoms for T2D. In addition, the symptoms – such as frequent urination – may be considered a symptom of another medical issue.

In order to determine whether a child or adult has diabetes, it’s important to see a doctor for medical testing. Make sure, particularly if there is any history of family incidences of the disease, to receive a check-up that includes testing of the blood and urine. Make this a regular part of your health regime every 2 or 3 years so that unrecognized symptoms don’t lead to untreated diabetes. If you have any concerns now though, request testing as soon as possible.

Pay attention to what you eat and how you spend your leisure time. Eat healthy and exercise with regularity. As the old adage goes, “You can be part of the problem or a part of the solution.”

References

[1] Kalyva, E; Evlampia Malakonaki, E; Eiser, C; Mamoulakis. D (2010). “Health-Related Quality of Life (Hrqol) of Children with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (T1DM): Self and Parental Perceptions.” Pediatric Diabetes, 12 (1): 34-40.

[2] McCarthy, M; and Kushner, J (2007). The Everything Parents’ Guide To Children With Juvenile Diabetes. Avon, MA: Adams Media.

[3] Kalyva et al (2010).

[4] Ziegler, A-G; and Nepom, GT (2010). “Prediction and Pathogenesis in Type 1 Diabetes.” Journal of Immunity, 32(4):23:468-478.

[5] Meltzer, SJ; and Belton, AB (2009). Diabetes in Adults. Toronto: Key Porter Books.

This article was originally published July 12, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/10/2015.