Parental T1D Increases Risk of Child's ADHD Diagnosis

When a parent had T1D, a child is nearly 30% more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis, though scientists have yet to figure out exactly why.

Jianguang Ji, MD, PhD

Children whose parents have type 1 diabetes (T1D) face a 29% higher risk of being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), according to new research.

The findings are the result of a new retrospective cohort study by Swedish researchers, who examined the records of more than 15,000 patients.

Study author Jianguang Ji, MD, PhD, of Sweden’s Lund University, told MD Magazine this study builds upon previous research that showed T1D can impact the development of fetuses.

“It is known that women with T1D have impaired oocyte quality and reduced fertility,” Ji said. “T1D can also damage sperm quality, DNA integrity and the ingredients of seminal plasma.”

Ji said it’s also possible, though not proven, “that fetal brain development might be delayed in a hyperglycemic intrauterine environment, with potential long-term implications for cognitive function.”

Data have shown that adolescent offspring of women with T1D have lower cognitive function than the general population, Ji said.

The data underpinning Ji’s study were gleaned from Sweden’s National Hospital Discharge Register and the country’s Outpatient Register. Those cases were then linked to the Swedish Multi-Generation Register to identify patients’ offspring. The study included 15,615 children who were born to parents diagnosed with T1D prior the child’s birth. They were compared against 1.3 million controls, children whose parents do not have T1D.

The study found ADHD risk was highest when the mother had T1D. In those cases, ADHD rates were 35% higher than the general population. When the father had T1D, ADHD rates were still 20% higher than the general population. However, the authors noted that the gap between the impact of maternal and paternal T1D was not large enough to be statistically significant.

The study’s authors controlled for a number of confounding factors, including parental ADHD diagnoses.

Ji and his co-authors noted that the nationwide nature of the data, along with the large sample size, make it a significant contribution to our understanding of the link between the 2 conditions.

The study is the latest to draw connections between T1D and ADHD, both of which are usually diagnosed in childhood, between the ages of 6 and 12.

A German study from 2016, for instance, found that children with T1D are significantly more likely than the general public to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Another study, published in 2012, looked at gestational diabetes and risk of ADHD. While that study found no link between socioeconomic status alone or gestational diabetes alone and ADHD risk, it found that when a mother had both low socioeconomic status and gestational diabetes, the child faced a significantly higher risk of ADHD.

Yet, while evidence mounts that there is some association between diabetes and ADHD, scientists don’t yet know exactly what that association is.

Ji said more research is needed to understand the mechanisms underlying the apparent link.

Ji’s study is titled, “Type 1 Diabetes in Parents and Risk of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Offspring: A Population-Based Study in Sweden" and it was published last month in Diabetes Care.

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