27 January 2014

Being married to a diabetic ups your own risk

Being married to someone with diabetes is linked to a higher risk that you'll develop the disease yourself.

A new study points to a possible added risk factor for type 2 diabetes: a wedding band.

The Canadian review of data on more than 75 000 couples worldwide found that being married to someone with diabetes is linked to a higher risk that you'll develop the disease yourself.

"The results of this study confirm that married couples share not only bank accounts and household chores, but also type 2 diabetes," said one expert not connected to the study, Christopher Ochner, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. "This is not to say that an individual will definitely get type 2 diabetes if their partner has it, but they are at a significantly increased risk," he added.

Weight gain and obesity

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of the blood sugar disease, affecting about 90% to 95% of people with the illness. It is often associated with increased weight gain and obesity.

In their research, a team at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal reviewed six studies conducted around the world. They found that the spouses of people with type 2 diabetes had a 26% higher risk of developing the disease, and also had a higher risk for pre-diabetes.

Many risk factors for diabetes, such as lack of exercise and poor eating habits, can be shared by people in the same household, the researchers noted.

The study authors also believe their finding could help improve diabetes detection and motivate couples to work together to reduce the risk of developing the disease.

Increased surveillance

"The results of our review suggest that diabetes diagnosis in one spouse may warrant increased surveillance in the other," study senior author Dr Kaberi Dasgupta, a researcher at the health centre and an associate professor of medicine at the university, said in a McGill news release.

"Men are less likely than women to undergo regular medical evaluation after childhood and that can result in delayed diabetes detection," she added. "As a result, men living with a spouse with diabetes history may particularly benefit from being followed more closely."

Ochner and other experts agreed that the findings make sense.

"Couples typically share household food so, what one eats, the other typically eats also," Ochner said. "Couples also tend to do physical activity together so, the more active one is, the more active the other may be."

Virginia Peragallo-Dittko is executive director of the Diabetes and Obesity Institute at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York. She said that the study did not determine one key factor: Do people prone to type 2 diabetes end up marrying people with similar risk profiles?

Unhealthy eating patterns

The study "did not identify if the spouse of the person with diabetes had biologically related family members with diabetes," she pointed out. "So the message isn't that you can 'catch' diabetes from your partner. Instead the message is, if you both engage in unhealthy eating patterns and physical inactivity, the partner without diabetes has a high risk for developing diabetes."

Dr Spyros Mezitis, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, added that the study points to the role spouses can play in diabetes prevention and care. "The spouses of diabetics may become involved in their loved one's diabetic management and prevent from becoming diabetics themselves," he pointed out.

Like Peragallo-Dittko, Ochner stressed that the study could only find an association between having a diabetic spouse and a higher risk for type 2 diabetes – it could not prove cause and effect. "It is possible that more health-conscious individuals tend to marry more health-conscious individuals and vice versa," he said. "The same may be said about physical activity – more active individuals tend to marry active individuals."

However, he agreed that "it makes sense from a clinical perspective to more closely monitor pre-diabetic spouses of individuals with diabetes."

The study was published in BMC Medicine.

Read more:

•             Who gets type 2 diabetes?

•             How the immune system is tied to type 2 diabetes

•             How constant stress causes type 2 diabetes in men

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