Type 1 Diabetes Risk Factors

Research scientists are still trying to identify the risk factors that lead to type 1 diabetes. Here are two possibilities.

Viral infection

Several studies suggest that type 1 diabetes may be triggered by a particular kind of viral infection that occurs during childhood or early adulthood or during a mother's pregnancy. Scientists think the virus may trigger changes in the child's immune system, perhaps by creating antibodies that are capable of attacking beta cells. When a similar viral infection occurs later in the child's life, it may reactivate these antibodies so they begin to destroy beta cells.


Family history plays a small role in diabetes risk. If one of your parents or grandparents has type 1 diabetes—especially your father or grandfather—your risk of developing the disease is increased but only slightly. Most people with type 1 diabetes, however, have no family history of the disease. Yet research suggests that some genetic susceptibility to type 1 diabetes must be present for the disease to occur.

Publication Review By: Written by: Christopher D. Saudek, M.D.; Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Published: 19 Apr 2009

Last Modified: 08 Oct 2015