Type 1 diabetes patients with children have a lower risk of death than those without children, but the benefits of parenthood are stronger in women than in men, a new study finds.
Previous research has shown that diabetes-related complications put people with type 1 diabetes at greater risk for death than people in the general population.
For this study, researchers analysed data from nearly 5 200 people in Finland who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 17 or younger between 1965 and 1979, and were placed on insulin at diagnosis. They were compared with a control group of twice as many people without diabetes.
By the end of 2010, the researchers found 1 025 people with diabetes and about 500 people in the control group had died. Death from all causes was nearly five times higher among women with diabetes than among women in the control group, and three times higher among men with diabetes than among men in the control group.
Overall, death from all causes was half that among men and women with and without diabetes who had children, compared to those who did not have children. In general, the more children a person had, the lower their risk of death.
But there were gender differences. Among women with and without diabetes, having children was associated with a lower risk of death. But the beneficial effect of having children was much smaller among men with diabetes than among those in the control group, according to the study, which is scheduled for presentation on Wednesday at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Barcelona, Spain.
One possible reason for this gender difference is that women with type 1 diabetes are trained and highly motivated to achieve better control of their diabetes during pregnancy, and this may continue after they give birth, said study author Dr Lena Sjoberg, of the University of Helsinki and National Institute for Health and Welfare, in Finland.
"One of the limitations of a register study is that you don't know who has chosen to remain childless or to have fewer children than desired, and whether those with diabetes have done so specifically because of their disease," Sjoberg said in an association news release. "Partly, the differences in mortality between childless persons and persons with children are probably due to the fact that those with serious health problems choose not to have children."
The study found only an association between having children and risk of death it did not prove cause-and-effect. Data and conclusions presented at meetings typically are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The Nemours Foundation has more about type 1 diabetes.