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Teens and diabetes

Diabetes can be challenging for anyone. Discover helpful ideas for navigating diabetes and the teen scene.

Diabetes shouldn't stop teens from living a normal, active life. Playing sports, spending time with friends and dating are among the many activities that teens with diabetes can take part in—as long as they take steps to keep diabetes under control.

The following tips can help teens with diabetes stay healthy:

Consider telling friends. Whether you choose to tell others that you have diabetes is up to you. But some people find that sharing makes life easier. For example, if your friends know, they might be able to do things like watch for signs of low blood sugar and remind you when it's time for a meal.

"My most successful teens with diabetes have lots of friends, and every single one of them knows they have diabetes," says Larry C. Deeb, MD, past president of Medicine & Science for the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

If you're not sure you want to tell your friends, the ADA recommends asking yourself the following questions:

  • How would you react if you were the other person?
  • What do you think the person's response would be?
  • Will keeping it private complicate things?

Be ready for exercise. Whether you hit the court or the ski hill, you can do the same things your friends do. What's more, physical activity is good for teens with diabetes. It tends to lower blood sugar—though sometimes too much.

"You just need to be aware of it, check and be prepared to take carbohydrates in," Dr. Deeb says.

You can help prevent hypoglycemia by checking your blood sugar before, during and after exercise. Don't forget to bring a snack, sports drink or glucose tablets to treat it.

Prepare for meals. Following your meal plan can be tricky sometimes. But even an occasional fast food meal is OK. Remember, too many carbohydrates (carbs) can cause your blood sugar to rise. Many restaurants post nutrition information. Or you might download an app that lets you check restaurant options and carb grams quickly on your smartphone, Dr. Deeb suggests.

If your insulin regimen involves counting carbs, don't forget to take the right amount of insulin before your meal.

Put safety first on the road. Driving is a risky activity for every teen—motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to following general safe driving practices, such as always buckling up, you need to take some extra precautions while driving if you have diabetes. Because driving with low blood sugar is dangerously similar to driving drunk, it's important to check your blood sugar before you get behind the wheel. And always have your diabetes supplies and medical identification with you.

Avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Alcohol, tobacco and drugs are bad ideas for any teen—but especially for teens who have diabetes. Drinking can cause dangerous blood sugar lows (hypoglycemia). And alcohol or drugs can make it hard for you to recognize this and treat yourself. People around you might think you're acting oddly because of alcohol. All of this can lead to serious trouble.

As for smoking: "Diabetes and smoking makes three instead of two—it dramatically increases cardiovascular risks," Dr. Deeb says. That means it can set you up for complications like heart disease even more than having diabetes alone.

Talk it out. Do you sometimes feel stressed out, angry or different? Remember, you're not in this alone. It may help to talk—perhaps with your parents, doctor or other teens in a diabetes support group.

reviewed 8/12/2019

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