New research suggests that the risk for developing type 2 diabetes may be greater for people who have a diabetic partner.
The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, found that the spouses of people with type 2 diabetes are significantly more likely to develop the condition themselves.
To investigate the diabetes risk for spouses who are not biologically related, Kaberi Dasgupta, of the Research Institute at McGill University Health Centre in Canada, and colleagues analysed six studies involving the health records of 75,498 couples. They specifically looked at factors such as age, socio-economic status and the way in which cases of diabetes were diagnosed
The team found that the partners of individuals with a history of type 2 diabetes had a 26% higher risk of developing the condition. But in studies that performed their own blood tests and detected undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, the risk was double for those with diabetic partners.
According to the researchers, this increased risk could be due to the fact that spouses live in the same environments and adopt the same social habits, meaning they are highly likely to have similar dietary habits, exercise levels and other lifestyle factors that can lead to type 2 diabetes.
“When we talk about family history of type 2 diabetes, we generally assume that the risk increase that clusters in families results from genetic factors. What our analyses demonstrate is that risk is shared by spouses,” Dr. Dasgupta explained.
“This underscores the effects of shared environments, attitudes, and behaviours, which presumably underlie the shared risk. Our results are not the finding of a single study but rather a synthesis of the existing studies.”
She added that so-called spousal diabetes could be a potential tool for early detection of type 2 diabetes as the findings of their meta-analysis, “suggest that diabetes diagnosis in one spouse may warrant increased surveillance in the other.
“Moreover, it has been observed that men are less likely than women to undergo regular medical evaluation after childhood and that can result in delayed diabetes detection. As a result, men living with a spouse with diabetes history may particularly benefit from being followed more closely,” she concluded.

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