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Jaundice in Newborns Associated With Type 1 Diabetes

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Nov. 11, 1999 (Los Angeles) -- It is not unusual for a child in the womb to develop blood proteins that are incompatible with the corresponding proteins in its mother's blood. Often these infants are born with jaundice, a yellowish discoloration of the skin due to an abnormal breakdown of blood products. A new study has found an association between this form of jaundice in newborns and a higher occurrence of diabetes that starts in childhood, also known as type 1 diabetes.

However, "we are nowhere near saying that if you have a particular [type of blood protein], your risk is increased," one of the investigators tells WebMD.

In the paper, published in the October issue of the journal Diabetes Care, lead researcher Gisela G. Dahlquist, MD, PhD, of Umeå University Hospital in Sweden, and co-authors from Ireland and Hungary, found a strong association between jaundice caused by incompatibility of the ABO blood protein between mother and infant and the child's subsequent risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

ABO blood proteins determine the type of blood the child will have, such as A, B, or O. Certain situations can arise where the blood type of the child will cause a reaction or be incompatible with the mother's blood type, and thus cause problems. If a severe reaction develops, the child may die.

Incompatibility to Rh factor, another blood protein, had no effect. The Rh factor determines whether your blood type is positive or negative, as in B+ or O-.

Other important diabetes risk factors included a mother older than 25, a high blood pressure disorder during pregnancy known as preeclampsia, and lung disease in the newborn. The authors looked at approximately 900 cases of children who developed diabetes before age 15 from seven countries throughout Europe, and compared them to around 2,300 children without diabetes.

"This is an interesting paper, generally well done, and an exciting confirmation of earlier findings [by the same authors]," says Trevor Orchard, MD, in an interview with WebMD seeking objective comment. "But even though this is a significant finding, we're not sure what proportion of ABO-incompatible mothers will have a child with diabetes." In other words, he says, the actual risk "is small."

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