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October 21, 2002

Genetics and Heredity

Question from Millinocket, Maine, USA:

I have read previously asked questions and see that there is about a 6% chance of a father passing diabetes on to his children, but my situation is different. My husband was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of three and has problems with hypoglycemia. His brother was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of five. Their father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his 40s which later required insulin therapy, and he subsequently passed away from complications. My father, age 52, was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and is now under excellent control. I also have a few great uncles and great aunts with diabetes. If my husband and I now have a baby, are the chances still around 6% that it will have diabetes?

Answer:

The risks of diabetes are increased if more relatives have diabetes. Nobody can tell you any more specific risk, but it could be in the 10-15% range with the number of relatives and maybe as high as 25%.

We do not currently have proven ways to prevent type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can be delayed and/or prevented by avoiding obesity and by eating in nutritious well-balanced fashion plus by having a daily activity program that maintains appropriate weight. Being aware of the risks of diabetes in other family members also means that they do not have to get very ill if such symptoms occur, blood glucose levels can be checked at home and/or via the health care team you are using for an early diagnosis.

OWJ