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September 9, 2003

Diagnosis and Symptoms

Question from Pennsylvania, USA:

My 13 year old so was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and no one anywhere in the family on either side has ever had diabetes of any kind. How did my son get this? Do you have any theory as to how a child gets diabetes? Should I have my other children tested for diabetes or pre-diabetes? If so, what test should I ask for?


Type 1A (autoimmune) diabetes occurs in genetically susceptible children, but it is triggered by a number of poorly understood environmental factors. Early exposure to cow’s milk was thought to be one of these for many years but has since been disproved. This explains why there is so often no family history at onset.

Two very big trials in North America and Europe to see if clinical diabetes could be averted in antibody positive subjects were both recently shown to be unsuccessful which means that for the time being there is no way of preventing insulin dependence. If curiosity got the better of you, the answer would be antibody testing for anti-GAD, ICA 512 , and anti-insulin antibodies. Only if all three were negative could you be sure that there was no autoimmune process.