Is diabetes genetic? Facts about hereditary risk

Written by Zawn Villines
Reviewed by Suzanne Falck, MD, FACP
Diabetes is a complex set of diseases with no single cause. Genetic factors make some people more vulnerable to diabetes, particularly with the right environment.
In addition, certain lifestyle factors can cause type 2 diabetes in individuals with no known family history.
This complex interaction between genes, lifestyle, and environment points to the importance of taking steps to minimize individual diabetes risk.
Contents of this article:

  1. Is type 1 diabetes hereditary?
  2. Is type 2 diabetes hereditary?
  3. How can diabetes run in families without being genetic?
  4. Reducing the risk of passing on diabetes

Is type 1 diabetes hereditary?
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disease and is usually diagnosed during childhood.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means that it causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy cells. It is often called juvenile diabetes because most people are diagnosed in childhood, and the condition then lasts their lifetime.
Doctors used to think type 1 diabetes was wholly genetic. Newer studies have shown, however, that children develop type 1 diabetes 3 percent of the time if their mother has the condition, 5 percent of the time if their father has it, or 8 percent if a sibling has type 1 diabetes.
Consequently, researchers now believe that something in the environment has to trigger type 1 diabetes.
Some risk factors include:

  • Cold weather. People develop type 1 diabetes in winter more frequently than summer. It is also more common in places with cool climates.
  • Viruses. Researchers think some viruses might activate type 1 diabetes in people who are otherwise vulnerable. Measles, mumps, coxsackie B virus, and rotavirus have been linked to type 1 diabetes.

Research suggests that people who develop type 1 diabetes may have autoimmune antibodies in their blood for many years before showing symptoms. As a result, the disease may develop over time, or something may have to activate the autoimmune antibodies for symptoms to appear.
Is type 2 diabetes hereditary?
Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of the disorder, accounting for 90 percent of cases worldwide. Similarly to type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is at least partially hereditary. People with a family history of the disorder are significantly more likely to develop diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is also linked to a number of lifestyle factors, including obesity. In one study, researchers found that 73 percent of people with type 2 diabetes had moderate to high family risk factors, while just 40 percent were obese. This finding suggests that genetics may increase the risk of developing diabetes even more than obesity, at least in this study group….
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Source: Medical News Today