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June 4, 1999

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from Manchester, United Kingdom:

How is diabetes caused? And how is it diagnosed from other diseases? Which other diseases have similar causes?


Your question is really too big to deal with at all comprehensively by e-mail and it sounds as though it might be a homework project so that what I will do is to point you in the direction for further research.

First of all, though there are many different causes for diabetes. In children it is usually due to a disorder of the immune system in which some of the white blood cells confuse ‘self’ with ‘non-self’ — in other words they think that the insulin producing cells are some sort of foreign body and start to slowly destroy them. Other kinds of diabetes are linked to specific changes in chromosomes and in many cases of Type II or adult onset diabetes the specific problem is not yet understood.

The diagnosis of diabetes comes from showing abnormally high blood glucose levels with an overflow of this glucose into the urine. More specific tests are also some times needed.

Type 1A diabetes or the autoimmune form is similar in mechanism to other autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and some forms of thyroid disorders. For more information you might like to look at Understanding Insulin-Dependent Diabetes by H. Peter Chase, M.D.