little girls sitting on her mother's lap in a doctor's office giving a high five to the doctor

Is Type 1 diabetes genetic? Learn more about the condition

May 24, 2023
4 minutes
Your Health

According to the CDC, over 37 million people in the United States have diabetes. As many as one-fifth of these individuals don’t know that they have it. These facts make it a serious health concern.

While the tools available to people with diabetes have improved significantly in recent years, a diabetes diagnosis still impacts most aspects of life. If you're someone who’s affected, you’re probably wondering whether or not you’re going to pass the condition on to your kids. In other words, you want to know, “Is Type 1 diabetes genetic?”

To answer this question, you’ll want to take a closer look at diabetes, the different types and how they develop.

How many types of diabetes are there?

Doctors diagnose three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes only affects pregnant people and typically clears up after the baby’s birth. It happens when the body doesn’t make enough insulin to meet the mother’s needs during pregnancy. This occurs in 2 to 10 percent of pregnancies each year.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, making up 90 to 95 percent of all cases, per the CDC. In this type of diabetes, the body’s cells don’t respond to insulin properly, so the body makes more of it to compensate. This condition is known as insulin resistance. Over time, the body can’t keep this up, and blood sugar levels increase.

While Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile diabetes, it appears in people of all ages. This form of diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make enough insulin, if it makes any at all. Blood sugar builds up in the bloodstream since insulin isn’t present to help the cells absorb and use it.

What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

Man sitting at the sofa and taking blood from his finger due to diabetes

While both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes affect a person’s blood sugar, they’re quite different in how they do this.

In someone with Type 1 diabetes:

  • The body can’t create insulin properly.
  • The condition is an autoimmune problem.
  • Symptoms develop quickly.
  • The only treatment is to take insulin.
  • There is no cure.

In someone with Type 2 diabetes:

  • The body can’t use insulin properly.
  • Weight and diet are contributors.
  • Symptoms develop slowly.
  • Treatment involves lifestyle changes and medications or insulin.
  • There's no cure, but it can go into remission.

What causes Type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to destroy cells in the pancreas that make insulin. However, doctors have not identified all of the elements that cause this illness.

Several factors determine if someone is at a higher risk for Type 1 diabetes. They include:

  • Having another autoimmune condition
  • A family history of Type 1 diabetes
  • Genetic components, including variants of specific HLA genes

In addition, people usually have a trigger that causes them to develop Type 1 diabetes. Triggers include certain problems during pregnancy, exposure to viruses, and specific climate factors, such as living near the ocean or at a higher altitude. However, no one knows why only some people develop Type 1 diabetes when these triggers are present.

What percentage of Type 1 diabetes is genetic?

Because doctors can’t pinpoint the exact cause of diabetes, it's impossible to say that a specific percentage of cases result from genetics. Doctors know that predisposition to Type 1 diabetes is passed down through families, but they can’t use this information to predict which children will develop it.

Instead, consider the risk of passing diabetes on to your child if you are an adult who has it. Here are some facts about the odds of passing Type 1 diabetes on to your child:

  • Fathers have a 1 in 17 chance of passing the condition on to their children.
  • Mothers who have children before age 25 have a 1 in 25 chance of passing it on to their children.
  • Mothers who have children after age 25 have a 1 in 100 chance of passing it on, and the general population faces the same level of risk.
  • Parents who are diagnosed with diabetes before age 11 have twice the risk of passing it on to their children as parents of the same age who were diagnosed later.
  • Children who have two Type 1 parents have 1 in 4 odds of developing Type 1 diabetes.

While it’s clear that someone with Type 1 diabetes can pass it on to their child, many people develop the condition without any known relatives who have diabetes. Because of these variances, tracing the Type 1 diabetes inheritance pattern isn’t easy.

Can you prevent Type 1 diabetes?

Young man wearing glasses giving himself an insulin shot at home.

There’s nothing you can do to prevent Type 1 diabetes. Living a healthy lifestyle, having more activity in your life, and eating nutritious foods are all good choices to make, but they can’t stop you from developing an autoimmune disease.

However, these steps can reduce your likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes, so they are worth considering.

If you want to gain better control over your health, Evidation can help. Track your steps and sleep or log your meals with your favorite app. Next, connect it to Evidation and get rewarded for healthier choices. You can also participate in health surveys and research, including research into Type 1 diabetes.

Download the app today.