Risk Factors for Type 1 Diabetes

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop type 1 diabetes with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your healthcare provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

Type 1 diabetes is equally common among men and women, but it occurs more often in whites than in nonwhites. The main risk factors include the following:

Family History

If you have a parent, brother, or sister with type 1 diabetes, you (or your child) are at greater risk of having it, too. Scientists continue to believe that genetic factors play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes.

Autoimmune Conditions

Type 1 diabetes is most commonly an autoimmune disease, caused by the body's immune system attacking the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. You may be at a greater than average risk of developing type 1 diabetes if you have another autoimmune condition, such as:

Birth and Early Childhood Conditions

The following may be risk factors for developing type 1 diabetes:

  • Born to an older mother
  • Born to a mother with pre-eclampsia during pregnancy—There is recent strong evidence, though, showing no relationship between pre-eclampsia and subsequent diabetes.
  • Early introduction of formula to infants—Past studies have not settled the issue of whether cow’s milk, fed to infants in the first 6-8 months of life, increases the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. A large international study is underway in search of an answer to this question.

Ethnic Background

If you are of Northern European or Mediterranean ancestry, you are at increased risk of type 1 diabetes. The risk of type 2 diabetes is lower among Asians (ie, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean) and Mexicans.

Environmental Factors

The following may increase the risk of type 1 diabetes:

  • Stress: physical or emotional
  • Diet: high in nitrosamines or dairy products
  • Toxins


American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/home.jsp .

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov .

Medical conditions. Diabetes: type 1. Risk factors. University of California Davis Health Center website. Available at: http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu . Accessed October 19, 2004.

TRIGR study: a new trial investigates environmental triggers in type 1 diabetes [press release]. August 7, 2002. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International website. Available at: http://www.jdrf.org . Accessed October 19, 2004.

Last reviewed April 2007 by David Juan, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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