Will My Son's Children Inherit His Diabetes? ASK THE DOCTOR; Every Week Dr Martin Scurr, a Top GP, Answers Your Questions

Daily Mail (London), September 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

Will My Son's Children Inherit His Diabetes? ASK THE DOCTOR; Every Week Dr Martin Scurr, a Top GP, Answers Your Questions


Byline: Martin Scurr

TWO years ago, at the age of 30, my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Ever since, he's struggled to come to terms with it. He feels very negative and angry, and has ended a relationship because he's decided he shouldn't have children in case they inherit the condition.

But can diabetes be passed down through a family? There is no history of type 1 on either side of the family. I so desperately want to help him, but don't know where to start.

Name and address withheld.

THIS is an incredibly stressful situation for your son and for you -- but please be reassured that you are doing exactly the right thing by searching for information about this condition.

The first year or two after diagnosis is a time of emotional highs and lows for many patients, and it is important that the whole family learn as much as possible about diabetes so that all aspects -- such as diet, regular blood testing and insulin injections -- become a normal part of routine: no mystery and no fear.

Type 1 diabetes is a life-long condition that starts when the immune system mistakenly starts to attack the pancreas, leaving it unable to produce insulin -- a vital hormone that mops up sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream.

When the insulin supply fails, blood glucose levels mount ever higher, triggering symptoms of frequent urination and thirst. However, these only become evident when about 90 per cent of the insulin-producing cells have been destroyed. Although type 1 diabetes usually begins in childhood or adolescence, about a quarter of cases are diagnosed in adults.

Receiving this diagnosis is frightening, and the response of your son is common -- many people react with anger and frustration, and take time to accept what has happened.

FOR this reason, psychological care is important. Your GP should be able to advise you on this, and your son may be able to speak to patients who have experienced these emotions and nurses who are trained in diabetes care.

These specialist nurses are highly sensitive to the psychological aspects and are a great source of support -- they give the best and most skilled counselling available.

Your son is, understandably, concerned about passing the disease on to any future children. Yet the genetic link is not entirely clear, and there may be environmental factors involved, too.

What we do know is that the child of an affected mother has between a 1 and 4 per cent chance of developing the condition; if the child has an affected father, the risk is 3 to 8 per cent.

It seems that in those who carry the genes, the presence of certain environmental agents may trigger the immune system to attack the pancreas. The exact triggers are unknown, but possibilities include viral infections, immunisations, obesity, and vitamin D deficiency.

The incidence of childhood type 1 diabetes is, in fact, increasing at a rate of 2 to 5 per cent per year. Again, we don't know why.

A good thing to do is to visit the website of Diabetes UK, where you will find a wealth of information. There is also a careline where you can talk to someone for support. It is a superb organisation that will be of undoubted value to you and your son. I wish you both the best of luck. FOR the past few months I have been losing weight for no apparent reason. …

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