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Treating Type 2 Diabetes ASAP Pays Off

Studies: Intensive Approach to Blood Sugar and Blood Pressure Pays Off for Decades
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 10, 2008 -- If you've got type 2 diabetes, the sooner you get intense about reining in your blood sugar, the better. It also pays to buckle down on your blood pressure and stay that way.

That's the message from a long-term study of adults with type 2 diabetes.

It's not news that controlling blood sugar and blood pressure are musts for managing type 2 diabetes. But the new findings show that doing so promptly and intensively are key.

What's the payoff? Less likelihood of a heart attack and a healthier cardiovascular system, for starters, according to the findings published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Curbing Blood Sugar

First, the study focused on blood sugar control, comparing a purely dietary approach to intensive drug therapy using medications called sulfonylureas, insulin, or metformin.

Some 5,100 British adults newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were assigned to one of those treatment plans. They stayed with the study for six to 20 years.

When the study ended, it was clear that complications in tiny blood vessels were rarer in the intensive drug therapy groups than in the diet-only group.

That advantage was still paying dividends a decade later.

Long-Term Perk

When the study ended in 1997, the patients were free to follow whatever type 2 diabetes treatment they chose with their doctors. Most started taking diabetes drugs.

That doesn't mean they abandoned diet; it just means that they were all allowed to take drugs, too. A healthy diet is a staple of diabetes care.

Over the next 10 years, people formerly in the intensive drug therapy group were less likely to have a heart attack or develop diabetes-related complications, compared with people who had been in the diet-only group.

The early, intensive approach to blood sugar control amounted to a head start. The researchers -- who included Rury Holman, FRCP, of Churchill Hospital in Oxford, England -- call that a "legacy effect."

Blood Pressure: Keep It Down

Holman's team also compared intensive and not-so-intensive approaches to blood pressure among the diabetes patients in their study. High blood pressure, like diabetes, makes heart disease (and a host of other serious conditions) more likely.

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