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August 15, 2002

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from Huntsville, Alabama, USA:

Has anyone has researched to see if type 1 diabetes could be caused by a major shock to the system (such as a child accidently putting their hands on a stove and burning them)? All I have ever heard is that it happens from getting a bad viral cold that the system cannot fight, but my child never had this problem. No one else in our family has type 1 diabetes.

Answer:

Type 1 diabetes, or more specifically, type 1A (autoimmune) diabetes (which is almost certainly the kind of diabetes your child has), occurs in individuals who are already both genetically predisposed and who have also been exposed to certain environmental factors. We don’t yet know what these are, but early exposure to certain kinds of cow’s milk has been thought to have a role, as well as infections with some viruses.

What any kind of stress can do, and it is usually from an intercurrent infection, is to exacerbate the already established rate of immune damage to the insulin producing cells in the pancreas This in turn may precipitate insulin dependence so that it may ‘seem’ as though the stress actually caused the diabetes. It is the rule rather than the exception for there to be no family history of this kind of diabetes.

DOB