The number of teen diabetics is growing – especially teens with type 2 diabetes. Once considered a disease of adults and older people, type 2 diabetes in teens has risen along with the rate of obesity.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, the type most common in children and teens, type 2 diabetes doesn’t necessarily require insulin and can often be treated with diet and oral medications. For this reason, many teen diabetics believe their disease is milder than their counterparts with type 1 diabetes. Not so, says adolescent diabetes expert, Dr. Phil Zeitler.
When Dr. Zeitler served as the head of a large study called Treatment Options for Type 2 Diabetes in Adolescents and Youth (Today), he found the complication rate in teens with type 2 diabetes was high – even at their tender age. What types of complications? Researchers found a significant number of teen diabetics had elevated blood pressure, abnormalities in their lipid levels, and microscopic protein in their urine – an indicator of early diabetic kidney damage.
Contrary to what many people believe, diabetic kidney disease and high blood pressure are more aggressive in teens with type 2 diabetes – compared to those with type 1 diabetes. In fact, a teen who already has protein in his or her urine has a ten percent chance of developing significant diabetic kidney disease by their early 30’s.
What about heart problems? Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in people with diabetes – and teen diabetics are no exception. According to Dr. Zeitler, teens with type 2 diabetes already have a higher incidence of heart and blood pressure abnormalities – including thicker, stiff arteries, higher blood pressure, and heart enlargement. Sadly, these teens could be setting themselves up for a heart attack as early as their thirties or forties.
Is there a way to help teens with type 2 diabetes ward off these serious complications? The problem is many teens aren’t taking their diagnosis seriously. They don’t see their doctor regularly – and sometimes miss taking their medications. Plus, they’re not always focused on eating a healthy diet and staying active to keep their sugars well controlled.
The key is to help teens with type 2 diabetes understand the serious nature of their disease – and the importance of taking their medications. The next step is to help them develop better eating and exercise habits – starting with a daily walk. Changing the eating habits of a typical teen can be challenging, so it’s better to do it incrementally.
Fortunately, most teens still eat at home, so making healthy food choices for the entire family can help a teen with type 2 diabetes improve their blood sugar levels and reduce their risk for the complications of teen diabetes. Eliminating processed foods, choosing foods that are lower in sugars and carbohydrates, and reducing fat can all have a positive impact on the health of a teen diabetic.
The bottom line? Teens with type 2 diabetes are at the same or higher risk of complications from their disease as type 1 diabetics. The time to start reducing the risk of future diabetic complications is now.
Family Practice News August 2010. page 22.