Family History


Maj Hemstad
One of the major risk factors for developing type 1 diabetes is family history. Dr. Patel, can you tell us how family history can increase a person’s risk for type 1 diabetes?

Dr. Patel
Well, Dr. Hemstad, studies suggest that there is a link between certain genetic factors and a person’s risk for developing type 1 diabetes. Genes are hereditary, which means they get passed along from parents to children. So if a person has a parent or other relative who’s been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, there’s a chance that the genetic factors linked with this disease were passed on to them.

Research has pointed to a family of genes called the human leukocyte antigen, or HLA, complex. HLA genes help the immune system distinguish the body’s own protein from proteins made by viruses and bacteria. Some variants in certain HLA genes are thought to increase a person’s risk for type 1 diabetes because these variants make it more likely that their immune system will attack the beta cells that produce insulin.

It’s important to remember that family history is only a risk factor, not an absolute cause. Just because a person has type 1 diabetes in their family history does not mean that they will definitely develop it themselves. Family history of diabetes simply increases the likelihood that a person is predisposed to developing type 1 diabetes, but there are usually additional risk factors or triggers at play, such as exposure to a virus or other environmental factors.