Study: Type 1 diabetics more likely to develop other autoimmune diseases

by Barbara Hewitt on October 24, 2016

People with type 1 diabetes often go on to develop other autoimmune disorders, most commonly thyroid conditions, new research from the United States has found.

But the scientists also found that not everyone is likely to do so with the risk higher for those who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in later life, particularly older, white women.

post-menopausal-womenThe most common disorders linked to type 1 diabetes are thyroid and gastrointestinal diseases. These include celiac disease, an over active thyroid, rheumatoid arthritis and vitiligo

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreas and destroys its insulin producing cells and the study from scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that 27% of patients had at least one other autoimmune disorder.

‘The pattern that emerged was striking. Autoimmune diseases begin early in childhood, where nearly 20% of those under age six already have additional diseases other than type 1 diabetes,’ said lead author Dr. Jing Hughes.

‘Another surprise finding was that, while we had expected that autoimmune diseases may peak at a certain time of life, we found instead that the autoimmune burden continues to increase as patients age, to the extent that nearly 50% of those over age 65 have accumulated one or more additional autoimmune disease,’ Hughes added.

The study used data from nearly 26,000 adults and children being treated for type 1 diabetes at 80 endocrinology practices in the United States between 2010 and 2016. Of those with other autoimmune disorders in addition to diabetes, 20% had one additional problem and 5% had at least two additional diseases.

Participants with one or more additional autoimmune disorders were more likely to be older, female and white, the study found. They also tended to have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at an older age, and to have lived with the condition for longer.

Thyroid diseases were the most common autoimmune disorders affecting about 24% of the participants. In most of these cases, the thyroid gland was underactive, which can lead to constipation, weakness, weight gain, depression and a slowed heart rate.

Celiac disease was the second most common autoimmune problem affecting about 6% of participants. Celiac disease damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients if patients consume gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley and it can lead to complications like malnutrition, low bone density, lactose intolerance and infertility.

More research is needed into the discovery as one limitation of the study is that researchers lacked data on how old patients were when the autoimmune disorders developed, making it impossible to determine if participants gradually accumulated these diseases over time or if they were clustered around a certain age.

But the researchers believe that there is enough evidence to suggest that people with type 1 diabetes should get routine screening for other autoimmune diseases, particularly celiac disease and thyroid disorders.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

milkmaade June 10, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Interesting that so many autoimmune disorders show up together; for me, in order of diagnosis: hypothyroidism (Hashimoto), reactive hypoglycemia, fibromyalgia, mixed (undifferentiated) connective tissue disease, celiac disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes. First DX was in my 20s, latest in my 70s. Looks as if carbs may be trying to kill me eh.


milkmaade June 10, 2017 at 12:47 pm

Whoops; I forgot the psoriatic arthritis, between the MCTD and celiac disease. Basically, it appears that autoimmunity -period- is THE disorder and these diseases are merely sub-categories, clusters of symptoms!


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