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November 17, 2001

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from Perham, Minnesota, USA:

I am writing as a parent who has found herself against a wall looking for answers to something I am not quite sure even exist. A few months prior to his diagnosis of type 1 diabetes about a year ago, my 10 year old and another second grader were forcibly struck head to head by a very large sixth grader for no reason. The sixth grader just wanted to make them cry like "sissies". The other child's two permanent teeth were broken off into my son's head (frontal hairline). The doctor seemed to feel that my son was okay, but within the month he started to show some physical changes, the first being weight loss, tiredness, and rolling his eyes back into his head. Two months prior to diagnosis, his doctor ordered an EEG as well as a diabetes test and everything checked out okay, but two months later, the diabetes test came back positive. Can a blow to the head trigger diabetes? We have absolutely no diabetes in our family and the physical changes are too coincidental with the head injury. I have asked my son's doctor who seems to avoid giving an answer. I need to know where to turn for this. Can you give me any resources?

Answer:

It is always tempting to look for some obvious cause, but blunt trauma as you describe is not associated with the development of type 1 diabetes. Most kids develop diabetes without any obvious family history of diabetes but we believe type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which there is some genetic nonspecific susceptibility.

There is no reason to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to try to determine your son’s HLA subtypes and then match with yours and his fathers except for research purposes. However, this would obviously allow you to recognize the genetic susceptibility factors in your family even if there were no clinical correlates.

I always think that looking for such causes is more like recognizing how many identical cars there are on the road — previously unrecognized before your bought that particular kind of car.

SB