Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

Insulin is the hormone that’s responsible for moving glucose into the cells. Without insulin, the body can’t regulate blood sugar levels, which can lead to dangerous complications in people with this condition.

Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused primarily by genetic components, although it’s suggested that there are some nongenetic causes as well.

In this article, we will explore the genetic components and other nongenetic factors that cause type 1 diabetes, as well as the symptoms and common misconceptions of this condition.

Genetic predisposition is thought to be a major risk factor in the development of type 1 diabetes. This can include both family history, as well as the presence of certain genes. In fact, according to research from 2010, there are over 50-plus genes that may be a risk factor for this condition.

Family history

As with many health conditions, having a family history of type 1 diabetes may increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. People who have a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes may be at an increased risk.

According to the American Diabetes Association, a child’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes can even be as high as 1 in 4 if both parents have the condition.

Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules

The major histocompatibility complex is a group of genes found in humans and animals that aids the immune system in recognizing foreign organisms.

In 2004, researchers found that the presence of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules on certain chromosomes is a precursor to the development of type 1 diabetes.

Circulating autoantibodies

The presence of antibodies is a natural, necessary immune system response to foreign threats. However, the presence of autoantibodies indicates that the body is producing an autoimmune system response to its own healthy cells.

Older studies have shown the presence of several different types of autoantibodies in people with type 1 diabetes.

While genetics are thought to be the primary risk factor in the development of type 1 diabetes, there are a handful of outside factors that have been thought to trigger the autoimmune reaction associated with this condition.

Other factors that may trigger type 1 diabetes include:

  • Exposure to viruses. A 2018 review of studies investigated the link between maternal exposure to viruses during pregnancy and the development of type 1 diabetes in their children. The researchers found that there was a strong association between maternal viral infections and the development of type 1 diabetes in the child.
  • Exposure to certain climates. A 2017 study found that there may be a possible link between climate and the development of type 1 diabetes. In this study, the researchers found that there was a higher incidence of childhood type 1 diabetes in oceanic climates, higher latitudes, and areas with lower sun exposure.
  • Other factors. A 2019 study investigated the potential perinatal risks of developing type 1 diabetes in childhood. The researchers discovered that factors such as gestation period and maternal weight may be associated with a slight increase in the risk of developing this condition. Other factors, such as the role of infant feeding, vitamin supplementation, and maternal blood type, have also been researched for their link to type 1 diabetes. However, more research is still needed in these areas.

Most of the nongenetic risk factors are thought to trigger type 1 diabetes by increasing the autoimmune stress of the body.

Type 1 diabetes is commonly diagnosed during childhood, most often between the ages of 4 and 14. When the condition is undiagnosed, type 1 diabetes symptoms may develop during this time due to the complications of high blood sugar levels.

The most common symptoms of the condition include:

If type 1 diabetes isn’t diagnosed and treated, it can lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. This condition happens when blood sugar levels become extremely high due to a lack of insulin. Ketones are then released into your blood.

Unlike ketosis, which happens as the result of low glucose intake, diabetic ketoacidosis is an extremely dangerous condition.

The symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include:

If you notice the symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis, you should seek medical attention right away. If untreated, this condition can result in coma or even death.

Although type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes may seem similar, they are separate conditions.

  • With type 1 diabetes, the body can’t produce insulin properly due to the destruction of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This condition is an autoimmune disorder caused primarily by genetic factors.
  • With type 2 diabetes, the body can’t use insulin properly (this is called insulin resistance) and, in some cases, may not be able to produce enough insulin either. This condition is caused by lifestyle factors and genetics.

While type 1 diabetes is the condition that has the strongest genetic risk factors, there are also certain genetic risk factors for type 2 diabetes as well, including family history, age, and race.

Do you know the truth behind these common diabetes myths?

Type 1 diabetes is part of a complicated set of disorders, and there are quite a few common misconceptions about this condition. Here are some of the most common myths and truths about type 1 diabetes.

Myth: Type 1 diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar.
Truth: Type 1 diabetes is primarily genetic in origin, and there’s no research to suggest that eating too much sugar is a risk factor for diabetes.

Myth: Type 1 diabetes is caused by having overweight.
Truth: While weight and diet is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, there’s little scientific evidence to suggest that type 1 diabetes is caused by having overweight.

Myth: Type 1 diabetes can be reversed or cured.
Truth: Unfortunately, there’s no cure for type 1 diabetes. Children can’t outgrow this condition, and taking insulin as a treatment for this condition won’t cure it.

Myth: People with type 1 diabetes can never eat sugar again.
Truth: Many people who have type 1 diabetes manage their condition through medication and dietary interventions. People with type 1 diabetes can still eat a well-rounded diet that includes complex carbohydrates or sugars.

Was this helpful?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that’s thought to be greatly influenced by genetic factors and triggered by outside factors.

Certain genes, such as those relating to the function of the immune system, have been linked to an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Certain outside factors, such as exposure to viruses and living in certain climates, have also been suggested to trigger autoimmunity in this condition.

If you or your child has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, learning how to manage your condition can greatly improve your overall quality of life.