Although it has become clear that diabetes is not inherited in a simple pattern, it is clear that there are two factors involved in the disease development: a genetic predisposition and an environmental factor. It sometimes surprises people that a genetic predisposition is not enough to cause the disease. An environmental trigger must be involved.
This has been proven with identical twins, when one develops diabetes and the other doesn’t (although they are at a significantly increased risk). Many times, especially in type 1 diabetes, the disease is triggered by a virus causing the development of antibodies (proteins that attack the virus) and then subsequent autoantibodies which attack the body’s own tissues. Often, these autoantibodies are present for years before a diabetes diagnosis.
Type 2 diabetes is more commonly associated with family history, but onset can be delayed or avoided with exercise and healthy dietary modifications. Remember, genetics alone are not enough to cause diabetes. Environment and lifestyle plays a huge role!
What is your child’s risk for developing the disease?
According to the American Diabetes Association, children of a man with type 1 have a 1 in 17 chance of disease development. Children of a woman with type 1 have a 1 in 25 chance of disease development if the mother was less than 25 years old when she gave birth. Children whose mothers were older than 25 years have a 1 in 100 risk of developing diabetes. If both parents have diabetes, the child’s risk is between 1 and 10 and 1 and 4. Additionally, if the parent developed DM before the age of 11, the child’s risk is doubled.
Researchers are currently trying to find a way to predict the likelihood of disease development. For example, many Caucasians with diabetes have the HLA-DR3 and HLA-DR4 gene in common. Additional autoantibody tests can be done to predict the development of the disease. These include glutamic acid decarboxylase and insulin autoantibodies. If you’re interested, ask your clinician or your child’s clinician about some of these tests.