Puberty and Type 1 Diabetes

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.

How Puberty Affects Diabetes

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 he’ll need to eat more. Altogether, those changes mean he’ll need more insulin during puberty.

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

How Diabetes Affects Puberty

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.

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How You Can Help Your Child

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

Because his blood sugar and insulin needs will change during puberty, he’ll need to test and track his blood sugar regularly. That will help his 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 him stay on track:

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

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on September 26, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

JDRF: “Teen Toolkit.”

Diabetes Québec: “Puberty in Young Diabetics.”

Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. “Puberty and type 1 diabetes.”

American Diabetes Association: “DKA (Ketoacidosis) & Ketones.”

KidsHealth: “All About Puberty.”

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