Stressful Life Events Can Triple A Child's Risk Of Type 1 Diabetes, Study Suggests

Stressful events in childhood - such as death or illness in the family, divorce or separation, - could triple the risk of developing type 1 diabetes, a new study has suggested.

The authors of the Swedish study, which involved more than 10,000 families with children aged between two and 14, concluded:

"Consistent with several previous retrospective studies, this first prospective study concludes that the experience of a serious life event (reasonably indicating psychological stress) during the first 14 years of life may be a risk factor for developing type 1 diabetes."

The researchers, from Linkoping University, added that as it is unlikely such stressful events can be avoided, families need support to cope if such problems occur.

At the beginning of the study none of the children involved had type 1 diabetes. Their parents were given questionnaires asking them to assess serious life events, parental stress, worries and their social support. 58 of the children were subsequently diagnosed with the condition.

The authors added that further research is needed to determine exactly how stressful life events contribute to the development of type 1 diabetes.

"The current study examined serious life events experienced at any time before diagnosis; further studies are thus needed to determine when in the autoimmune process psychological stress may contribute," they wrote in the study published in the journal Diabetologia.

Genetic predisposition remains the most important factor that impacts on an individual's risk of developing type 1 diabetes, with a 12-fold increase in the risk for a child from a family in which another close family member has it.

Speaking to HuffPost UK Lifestyle Dr Richard Elliott, Diabetes UK Research Communications Manager, said:

“The causes of Type 1 diabetes are highly complex and involve an auto-immune attack brought on by a combination of inherited genes and environmental triggers such as early diet or viral infection, which are still not fully understood.

"This research adds to our understanding of the potential role of psychological stress during childhood as one of these triggers.

"It is important to note that, while instances of stress might coincide with or even contribute to a diabetes diagnosis, it is highly unlikely that such events would be the only cause, and having a history of Type 1 diabetes in your family is still a much more important risk factor.”

However Elliott adds it is important all parents are aware of the symptoms of diabetes as early diagnosis is key:

“At the moment too many children are only being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when they are already very ill," he explained.

"That is why we would urge all parents to make sure they are aware of the four Ts: if a child is going to the toilet a lot, has increased thirst, is more tired than usual or is getting thinner, this could be a sign of Type 1 diabetes and they should visit a doctor immediately and insist they are tested for the condition.

"This will help ensure children are diagnosed at the right time and avoid the horror of becoming so ill that their life is in danger.”

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