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Diabetes in Middle Age = More Problems

Delaying Diabetes Until Old Age Might Reduce Late-Life Complications

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 27, 2006 - A new study shows a diabetes diagnosis in middle age spells more problems later in life than getting the disease in old age.

Researchers say the results suggest that helping people at risk for diabetes delay getting the disease as long as possible may significantly reduce diabetes-related health problems in their golden years.

The risk of developing diabetes increases with age, but researchers say that until now little has been known about how age of diagnosis affects diabetes-related complications among the elderly.

"Our study reinforces the need to help adults who are middle-aged take steps to prevent diabetes, and suggests that seniors with diabetes should not be treated as a single group," says researcher Elizabeth Selvin, PhD, MPH, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a news release.

Also, "It may be necessary to develop different treatment guidelines for those who are diagnosed during their 40s and 50s, as compared to those who are diagnosed after the age of 60," she says.

Selvin's study appears in the November issue of Diabetes Care.

Diabetes Risks Increase With Age of Diagnosis

In the study, researchers looked at more than 2,800 people aged 65 and over with diabetes who took part in a national health survey in 1999-2002.

The survey showed more than 15% of Americans over age 65 had diabetes.

The survey, which included interviews, physical exams, and blood samples, estimated about 2.4 million more seniors have diabetes but don't know it.

Researchers found those who had been diagnosed with diabetes during middle age, defined as 40-64, suffered from a very different set of health problems related to the disease than those diagnosed later in life.

For example, those diagnosed in middle age had more cases of retinopathy, an eye condition related to diabetes that affects the tiny blood vessels of the eye.

They also had much worse blood sugar control. Nearly 60% of the elderly with middle age-diagnosed diabetes had poor blood sugar control, compared with 42% of those with later-onset diabetes.

Problems with high blood pressurehigh blood pressure and high cholesterolhigh cholesterol were common in both groups.

However, elderly patients diagnosed with diabetes later in life were less likely to be taking medications for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, "suggesting that elderly individuals may actually require less treatment to remain in control of cardiovascular risk factors," Selvin says.

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