Q: Both our son, 8, and our daughter, 3, have been diagnosed with diabetes, though as far as we can tell, there is no family history of the disease. How did lightning strike twice in our family?
A: The exact interplay of genetic traits and environmental factors that appears to trigger type 1 diabetes is still unknown. But when it comes to explaining why a child — or in your case, two children in the same family — develops diabetes despite a lack of family history of the disease, more information is becoming available.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Looking closely at the health of your family members may reveal a history of other autoimmune diseases, including Celiac disease and thyroid-related autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Like different branches growing from the same tree, having any autoimmune disease present in a family makes other family members more prone to develop the same or different types of autoimmune diseases. In some families, for example, one relative may have Celiac disease while another has type 1 diabetes.
It’s also true that type 1 diabetes seems to be a growing problem in today’s world. Statistically, there is a rise of two to three percent of diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes each year. This may point to some kind of environmental trigger that is likewise on the rise, but we will need to wait until research can tell us what this is.
The most important point to remember is that your children are not statistics. Some parents go to great lengths to figure out why their child or children developed type 1; if you choose to go down this road, understand that you may never get an answer that fully satisfies you. Instead of expending energy looking back, try looking ahead at how new information and advancements can help your children with type 1 live full, healthy and normal lives.
–Cydney Fenton, M.D., is director of the Center for Diabetes & Endocrinology at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio.
How Other Parents Deal
“I can see now that getting stuck in that place where all I did was comb through our family history looking for signs of diabetes was really about me feeling very guilty about my child’s diagnosis. I was trying to find that smoking gun that would say, yes, my son’s diabetes is all my fault. It took a lot of support and help to move beyond this.”
— Lisa M., Delmar, N.Y., mom of 14-year-old Daniel
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.