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Diabetes Risks Go Beyond Heart Attacks, Strokes

Study: 40% of Deaths in People With Diabetes Are Due to Non-Cardiovascular Causes
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 2, 2011 -- Diabetes roughly doubles the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, a reality that’s put many doctors and patients on alert about the need to closely watch blood pressure, cholesterol, and other harbingers of an ailing cardiovascular system.

But less attention has been paid to other ways diabetes may cut life short.

Now an international team of researchers has produced one of the first comprehensive reports on the non-cardiovascular causes of death in people with diabetes, and it offers some sobering new findings.

Pooling data from 97 studies representing more than 820,000 people, researchers found that 40% of people with high blood sugar died from non-cardiovascular causes.

Looking Beyond Cardiovascular Disease

For example, compared to people who had not been diagnosed with diabetes, those with diabetes had triple the odds of dying of kidney disease and more than double the risk of dying of an infection (excluding pneumonia) or from liver cancer.

Risks of dying from other kinds of cancers, including ovarian, pancreatic, colorectal, breast, bladder, and lung, were also increased, though more modestly.

Diabetes also increases the risk of dying from Alzheimer’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), falls, nervous system disorders, digestive disorders, suicide, and liver disease, to name a few.

Those risks remained even after researchers accounted for the effects of other influences on the risk of death like body mass index (BMI), age, sex, and smoking.

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“We’ve known that people with diabetes live shorter lives. That, I think, is not new,” says Spyros Mezitis, MD, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“Cardiovascular [disease] is what we all are worried about with diabetes,” says Mezitis, who was not involved in the study. “But [the researchers] go into cancer and non-cancer [causes], infectious diseases, and other causes and they say there’s an increased association with those diseases.”

Diabetes and Cancer

Previous studies, going back to the 1960s, have noted that diabetes and cancer were found in the same person more often that would be expected by chance.

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