Diabetes mellitus, commonly known as diabetes, is a genetic disorder that affects the way the body processes sugar.

Diabetes is largely inherited; for a person to develop diabetes, one of their parents must pass on the gene for diabetes. However, environment and lifestyle factors must trigger the disease for it to develop. If a person has diabetes, their body may either be resisting insulin or not producing enough.

Type 1 Diabetes is classified as an autoimmune disorder, develops because the body not producing enough insulin. Type 1 Diabetes is also sometimes called insulin-dependent diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes is classified as a metabolic disorder, develops when the body resists insulin. If Type 2 Diabetes cannot be managed with exercise and dietary changes, insulin and other medications may be required.

Without monitoring and treatment, both types of diabetes can lead to very serious health problems and possibly fatal complications. With treatment, however, patients with both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes can live healthy, active lives.

Genetics and Diabetes

The role of genetics in diabetes’ development varies greatly depending on the type of diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes has a very strong genetic link, while Type 1 Diabetes is significantly less heritable. However, both forms of the disease must be inherited.

If your father has Type 1 Diabetes, your chances of developing the disease are 1 in 17. If your mother has the disease, your odds are about 1 in 25. However, this is highly dependent on a number of factors, including other diseases your parents have and their ages when you were born.

Type 2 Diabetes has a much stronger genetic link, and there are many variables in the development of Type 2 Diabetes. Researchers have found, however, that if one of your parents has Type 2 Diabetes, your risk of inheriting the disease is about 1 in 7. This is dependent on which parent has the condition and how old they were when they were diagnosed.

Researchers also suggest that diabetes runs in families because children often learn bad health habits from their parents, such as eating poorly and not exercising. These are habits that can trigger both types of diabetes.

Diabetes Symptoms

On average, people diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes are around 14 years old. Type 2 Diabetes tends to be diagnosed around middle age. Both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes are often diagnosed after a person develops progressively worsening symptoms of both excessive urination and thirst. In some cases, diabetes will only be diagnosed after a person experiences a health problem associated with diabetes.

Diabetes symptoms include:

  • foot ulcers
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • wounds that do not heal.

These symptoms may indicate that you have developed diabetes, particularly if you are overweight or know that one of your parents had diabetes. A diabetes test can determine whether or not you have the disease.

Diabetes Prevention

Type 1 Diabetes cannot be prevented. However, diabetes testing can help you determine if you will develop the disease.

By following some easy steps, most cases of Type 2 Diabetes can be prevented. Even though Type 2 Diabetes runs in families, it is often triggered by an unhealthy lifestyle. A genetic diabetes test can determine whether you have inherited a predisposition to diabetes from your parents.

To prevent Type 2 diabetes, doctors recommend you:

  • eat plenty of fiber and whole grains
  • get at least two and a half hours of physical activity a week
  • maintain a balanced diet
  • maintain a healthy weight.

If your parents, siblings, or other members of your family have Type 2 Diabetes, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about what you can do to prevent diabetes. Your doctor may recommend additional testing or a diet and exercise plan to follow.

Finding a Cure for Diabetes

There is no cure for either type of diabetes. However, researchers continue to pursue various methods of curing diabetes, and are hopeful of finding a cure in future years. Foundations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Diabetes Association, and the International Diabetes Federation are committed to raising funds for research to cure diabetes.

If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor about your health and develop a treatment plan to stay healthy. Monitor your blood sugar regularly, and if your health changes, talk to your doctor immediately.


The American Diabetes Association (n.d.). The genetics of diabetes. Retrieved November 20, 2008, from the American Diabetes Association web site.

Endocrine Web and the Norman Endocrine Surgery Clinic (2007). Type 2 Diabetes. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from the Endocrineweb web site.

Roan, Shari (2008). Gene testing for diabetes risk is not useful. Retrieved November 19, 2008, from the LA Times web site.