Diabetes in teenagers: Let’s halt the epidemic!

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Diabetes is one of the most talked-about diseases around the world. With as many as 50 million people suffering from diabetes, India is now referred to as the “Diabetes Capital of the World”. It’s only timely detection and right management that can go a long way in helping diabetics live a normal life.

Until a decade ago, diabetes was known to affect adults only in their mid-40s. But with changing lifestyles, the occurrence is as early as 13-19 years (teenagers).

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

It is a persistent, long-standing disease where utilization of carbohydrates, fats and proteins by the body is disturbed. This mainly occurs due to:
1. Inability of the body to produce enough insulin (due to dysfunction of beta cells of the pancreas)
2. Inability of the body to use insulin effectively (insulin resistance)
3. Or both.

Insulin resistance prevents the efficient uptake and utilization of glucose by most cells of the body, except those of the brain. As a result, blood glucose concentration increases (known as Hyperglycemia). Hyperglycemia is a singular constant feature in both types of diabetes.

Being a teenager is hard enough. But being diagnosed with diabetes is more challenging for a teenager. Teenage years are a time of physical, mental and emotional growth. Diabetes and its care can be one of the rough spots for growing teenagers. Just as the changes happening in their bodies make maintaining blood glucose control more challenging, teens are often expected to take more responsibility for managing their diabetes. Also, with increasing demands at school/college and opportunities for a wider social life, managing diabetes seems relatively unimportant for teenagers. With all these competing demands and pressures, some teens quit taking care of themselves.

The biggest cause of diabetes in teenagers is due to a family history, excessive weight or obesity. Nearly 1 out of every 3 children is overweight or obese. Due to unhealthy eating habits and lack of or no physical activity, diabetes is more likely to affect teenagers.

Signs and symptoms

These tend to develop suddenly such as:
1. Extreme weakness and/or tiredness
2. Extreme thirst—dehydration
3. Increased urination
4. Abdominal pain
5. Nausea and/or vomiting
6. Blurry vision
7. Wounds that don’t heal well
8. Irritability or quick mood changes
9. Changes to (or loss of) menstruation.

The main symptom of diabetes is that it is “asymptomatic”, which means teenagers may experience none of the above symptoms at all. But, taking steps to lower blood sugar levels is still important.

Diabetes Mellitus is classified into two types:
Type I Diabetes: Also known as Juvenile Diabetes and Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus.
Type II Diabetes: Also known as Non-insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus

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Dhrishti Bijlani
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Dhrishti Bijlani

Armed with a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics, Dhrishti Bijlani's goal is to make it easier for everyone to eat right and get more habituated to a healthy lifestyle.