Puberty and Type 1 Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on September 09, 2023
3 min read

Puberty can be bumpy for kids. They deal with changing bodies, shifting social lives, and surging hormones. For kids with type 1 diabetes, those changes have an extra impact: They’ll have to manage their condition a little differently. It works the other way around, too: Diabetes can affect how puberty happens.

It will take some extra effort, but you can help your child stay healthy during this phase.

Puberty starts with the release of sex hormones -- estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys. These hormones raise your child’s blood sugar. So do stress hormones like cortisol, which can also surge during this time in a teen’s life.

These chemicals can change the cells in your child’s body so they don’t use insulin as well as they did before. That’s called insulin resistance. In fact, insulin can be 30% to 50% less effective while your child is going through puberty. All of these hormones are strongest at night, which means that your child could have high blood sugar in the morning.

Meanwhile, your child is growing, filling out, and building muscle, which means they’ll need to eat more. Altogether, those changes mean they’ll need more insulin during puberty.

The exception is when a girl has their period. Then they might have to take more or less insulin than they do during the rest of the month. Their blood sugar might go up for a few days before they get their period, and then drop during the first days of bleeding. It’s important for them to check their sugar levels regularly and see how their period affects them. Over time, they can look for patterns and tweak their treatment to keep blood sugar from going too high or low during that time of the month.

Diabetes can make puberty start later for some kids. This can happen if their diabetes isn’t under control and they don’t get enough insulin. Boys may not grow as fast or put on weight as quickly as other guys their age. Girls might get their first period later than normal, and their cycles may not follow a regular schedule.

Some scientists believe that good diabetes management can help your child reach puberty on time.

The changes of puberty and diabetes management can be a lot for a kid to handle, so your child will need your help.

Because their blood sugar and insulin needs will change during puberty, they’ll need to test and track their blood sugar regularly. That will help their doctor look for trends and figure out the best insulin plan. It’s important to find the right routine because growth hormones make it harder for children’s cells to use insulin.

The problem is that kids in puberty are also dealing with changing social lives, mood swings, and more independence. That can mean that managing diabetes slips lower on their list of priorities. To help them stay on track:

  • Try to get them involved in their diabetes care early on. The more they understand about how insulin works, why things are changing, and why it’s important to manage their blood sugar, the better they’ll be able to handle the condition on their own.
  • Explain that it’s still important for them to pay attention to their health. If their blood sugar is too high or too low, they might not be able to do the things they want to do.
  • Help your daughter understand that sharing their blood sugar logs with you can help you and their doctor make it easier for them to manage their diabetes during their period.

If there are any sudden, unexplained changes in your child’s blood sugar, call the doctor. It might be time for everyone to sit down and come up with a new diabetes plan.