One of the most common questions I hear in my practice is from someone who has a relative with type 1 or type 2 diabetes: “What are the chances I will get diabetes?”
The answer is that your chances are increased, especially with type 2, but it’s not completely out of your control.
Compared to type 1, which occurs mostly in children and young adults, it’s actually more common to inherit type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease. Genetics are involved, but it’s more the lifestyle choices that cause type 2 to be passed from parent to child.
Lack of exercise, a poor diet, obesity–these “like father, like son” behaviors all increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Changing lifestyle factors by eating better, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight can often prevent “inheriting” type 2 diabetes from a parent.
Type 1 diabetes is a little trickier as specific genes have been identified that children can inherit from their parents. The American Diabetes Association assesses the risks of developing type 1 diabetes:
- 1 in 17 if your father was a type 1 diabetic
- 1 in 25 if your mother was a type 1 diabetic
- As high as 1 in 4 if both of your parents have type 1 diabetes
I have plenty of adult patients, however, who have a type 1 parent and are not diabetic. We have yet to completely understand what can “trigger” type 1 disease when one of the genes is present.
James M. Kelly, MD is a family physician who practices at Lincoln Family Medicine in Ephrata, Pa. He is a graduate of Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and completed his residency at Lancaster General Hospital. He specializes in diabetes care and is a member of the American Diabetes Association.