Ask an Expert: Could frequent urination mean that I have diabetes?

Q: I am a 14-year-old, very thin girl. I eat mostly healthy foods, but I have a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips every now and then. I have had frequent urination, even though I haven't had anything to drink in the last 24 hours. Am I at risk for getting diabetes? How can I find out if I have diabetes without going to the doctor?

Answer provided by Susanna Reiner, R.N., C.D.E., certified diabetes nurse educator, Providence Health & Services:

Anytime you notice a change in the way your body functions, it is important to get it evaluated by a physician. Frequent urination, especially when you have not had anything to drink, could be a sign of diabetes or of another health condition, and should be checked out.

It sounds like you do a great job of eating right and taking care of yourself. Luckily, a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips every once in a while is not enough to cause diabetes. Still, even people who appear very healthy can develop diabetes.

The two most common types of diabetes are called type 1 and type 2. In both types, too much glucose (sugar from foods) builds up in the blood, instead of being absorbed into the cells for energy.

You are at an age when type 1 diabetes is often discovered - it is usually diagnosed in children, teens and young adults. It's not caused by eating poorly or by any other kind of behavior. Whether for genetic reasons or other reasons, the body just stops making insulin - that's the hormone that helps your cells absorb glucose. Health problems arise quickly because glucose builds up too fast in the blood and starves the body for energy. People with type 1 diabetes may urinate frequently as the kidneys work overtime to try to flush the excess glucose out of the blood.

In type 2 diabetes, the body either makes too little insulin, doesn't use insulin properly, or both. There are many risk factors that can lead to adults developing type 2 diabetes, but in kids your age, the main risk factor is being overweight. Since you describe yourself as very thin, it's doubtful that you have this type of diabetes.

Frequent urination is one possible sign of either type of diabetes. Other signs might include the following:
  • Increased thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Irritability or unusual behavior
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue or shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Breath that smells fruity
Does having some of these symptoms mean that you have diabetes? Maybe, but maybe not. Can you find out for sure without going to the doctor? No.

Please talk to your parents about this, and make an appointment to see your pediatrician. A simple blood test can measure your blood glucose levels to determine whether or not you have diabetes.

Regardless of what is causing your frequent urinationĀ - whether it is diabetes, or something elseĀ - the sooner you find out for sure, the sooner you can start treatment to protect your health. If it is diabetes, it is important to get treatment right away to prevent serious problems. If it's something else, it's important to find out what. And if it's nothing, won't that be reassuring to know?

Thank you for your question. I hope you are doing well.

November 2009