One of the distressing things about Type 2 diabetes in young people is that it so quickly leads to serious complications, even more so than Type 1. Because of this, it is essential that we recognize the warning signs leading to diabetes at the earliest stage possible and intervene swiftly.
One recent Swedish study of kidney disease in young people with diabetes was especially chilling. The study looked at 469 people who were diagnosed with diabetes between the ages of 15 and 34. Of the group, most had Type 1; only 43 had Type 2. Over a nine-year period, 5.6 percent of the people with Type 2 diabetes developed kidney disease.
Another study of the same group of patients showed a similar situation with diabetic retinopathy (an eye disease that can lead to blindness). Fifteen Percent of the people with Type 2 diabetes had severe retinopathy,while only five percent of the people with Type 1 had retinopathy, and most of those with Type 1 had a milder form.
Both these studies show how dire the conseqeunces of Type 2 diabetes are when it occurs in young people. In most cases of chronic disease, being young provides some protection. Overall, in cases of early-onset Type 2 diabetes, this protection is simply lost. Compared with people who developed diabetes in later middle age, young people with diabetes are 80 percent more likely to end up needing insulin.
The risk of having a heart attack is also much higher. Older adults with diabetes have just under four times the risk of having a heart attack as someone their age without diabetes; young people with diabetes have 14 times the risk of having a heart attack as someone their age without diabetes.
The complications don't stop there. A long-term follow-up study of First Nations (native Canadians) children looked at a group of 51 patients who were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1986; at the time, all were under age 17.
When they were contacted 15 years later, two had died while on kidney dialysis, three were currently on dialysis (one of them had become blind), and another had had a toe amputation. Of 56 pregnancies among the patients, only 35 resulted in live births.
Kids with Type 2 diabetes often end up taking the sorts of medications we usually associate with older adults. It's not uncommon to find 15-year-olds taking metformin (Glucophage) for their blood sugar, along with one or more drugs for high blood pressure and a statin drug for high cholestrol. Diet, excercise, and supplements (if needed) may preclude the use of medications. Life style changes are always a better approach.