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March 13, 2000


Question from Doha, Qatar, Middle East:

I have a 9 year old who has been diabetic for 6 years and a 5 year old who has recently been diagnosed. We were recently asked to take part in a research project and the researchers were asking if there was any family history of thyroid disorders. Their maternal grandmother has a problem. Is there any link with the diabetes?


The commonest form of diabetes to present in Caucasian children is due to an abnormality of the immune system. It is called Type�1A or autoimmune diabetes and is generally characterised by the acute onset of lifelong insulin dependance with the presence of certain characteristic antibodies in the blood. The overall incidence of childhood diabetes in Arab children is a little less than half that in Europe and North America but from the very few reports I have seen it appears most often to be the same kind of diabetes as that seen in Caucasian children.

This is of some importance in trying to answer your main question because it has been recognised in the last few years that other organs in the body may be affected by the autoimmune disorder. When this occurs it is sometimes referred to as the Autoimmune Polyglandular Syndrome. By far the most commonly associated autoimmune disorder is hypothyroidism, but other thyroid disorders may be involved. I imagine therefore that the research project is concerned with the inheritance of this kind of diabetes in an Arab population.

Of course it is possible that the maternal grandmother may have suffered from some unconnected thyroid problem.