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Partners and Spouses Have Double Diabetes Risk

Spouses or live-in partners of people newly diagnosed with diabetes twice as likely to develop diabetes…

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Spouses or live-in partners of people newly diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to develop diabetes themselves — compared with people in the general population — in the year following the initial diagnosis of their loved one, new data from a large Kaiser Permanente study show.

Dr. Mohammed K Ali of Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, who reported the findings at the American Diabetes Association Sessions, added that, “We know that health-related risks tend to occur among people who are socially connected.” “We wanted to specifically examine whether cohabiting partners of people newly diagnosed with diabetes had elevated risks of developing diabetes themselves.”

The findings, he says, “are quite striking. Not only are they provocative, but the implications are huge. It might be important to think about talking to the spouses or partners [of newly diagnosed patients] about their own risks.

Dr. Ali stated that, “Even if you are not genetically related, if you are a residing spouse or domestic partner, just that shared environment is associated with an increased risk, that’s what we saw.”

“The take-home message is that it might push us a bit more to say, if someone is newly diagnosed, what’s happening with their partner? And instead of waiting for years and years for that partner to show up for their own glucose test, maybe we should preempt it. It may not be going as far as doing a glucose test, it might just be weighing them, or doing a ‘paper-pencil’ test — asking them a few questions about age, weight, etc. That might be the most prudent way, but it certainly seems necessary,” according to Dr. Ali.

Dr. Ali and his colleagues analyzed 2005 to 2011 data from Kaiser Permanente Northern California covering more than 3 million members. They estimated the average annual incidence of diabetes among those aged 18 to 79; whether it was type 1 or 2 diabetes wasn’t specified, he noted, but most newly diagnosed diabetes among adults would be type 2, he said. They also estimated annual diabetes incidence rates among the spouses and cohabiting domestic partners of members diagnosed with diabetes in the previous year and finally compared both of these figures with those obtained from the general US population. Incident diabetes was defined as two or more outpatient diagnoses, or one or more inpatient or emergency-room diagnosis, or being on diabetes medications, except metformin alone, in the past two years.

The diabetes incidence among Kaiser Permanente members was similar to that reported in the general US population (according to Centers for Disease and Prevention figures). But the incidence was much higher among spouses of people newly diagnosed with diabetes compared with Kaiser Permanente’s overall population — indeed, double, when all ages were combined (1.71% vs 0.83%).

Women with newly diagnosed spouses had 90% higher risks than women in the overall Kaiser Permanente population (1.35% vs 0.71%) and for men who were spouses of those newly diagnosed, the risk was even higher, almost 2.5 fold, at 2.22% vs 0.96%.
There was no difference across different racial groups. In fact, “there was a very distinct pattern of doubling of diabetes risk in spouses of those newly diagnosed with diabetes across all ethnic groups,” Dr. Ali observed.

There were a number of same-sex partners in the analysis, but the numbers are too small so far to draw meaningful conclusions on this demographic group, he noted.
Dr. Ali acknowledged that these are observational data and that there may be an effect whereby spouses of those newly diagnosed were encouraged to seek a glucose test themselves following their partner’s diagnosis, thereby explaining some of the increased risk.

Practice Pearls:

  • Even if you are not genetically related, if you are a residing spouse or domestic partner, just that shared environment is associated with an increased risk.
  • Spouses or live-in partners of people newly diagnosed with diabetes are twice as likely to develop diabetes themselves.
  • Following their partner’s diagnosis spouses and partners should also be tested for diabetes.

American Diabetes Association 2015 Scientific Sessions; June 6, 2015; Boston, Massachusetts. Abstract 77-OR