May 22, 2012 -- New research shows that people with diabetes are living longer, and this is likely due to heart-healthy habits and tighter control of blood sugar levels.
Many people may only associate diabetes with vision loss, kidney disease, and limb amputations, but it also increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. From 1996 to 2006, however, the risk of dying from heart disease and stroke decreased by 40% among people with diabetes.
People with diabetes do die earlier than people without diabetes, but this gap appears to be getting smaller.
"This is good news," says researcher Edward W. Gregg, PhD. He is the acting director of the division for heart disease and stroke prevention at the CDC in Atlanta. "We are seeing a reduction in death rates in people with diabetes, and this is largely due to prevention efforts."
Specifically, he cites reductions in blood pressure levels, low density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol, decreases in smoking, and improved blood sugar control among people with diabetes. "We think it is a gradual improvement of multiple risk factors."
This should be a source of empowerment and motivation for people with diabetes. "We can make a big difference," he says. "People can cut their risk of developing cardiovascular disease in half if they are able to manage their risk factors."
The new study analyzed data on 250,000 adults from 1997 to 2004.
The findings appear in Diabetes Care.
People With Diabetes Living Longer
John Buse, MD, says the future is looking brighter for many people with diabetes. He is the chief of the division of endocrinology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Buse says the new study confirms and expands upon previous reports suggesting a decline in death rates among people with diabetes. "This study demonstrates the trend robustly," he says in an email. "It is clear that the prognosis for people with diabetes is improving."
Others in the field are also excited about the new findings. "This is tremendous, really great news," says Carol J. Levy, MD, CDE. She is an associate professor of endocrinology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "I am thrilled to see that what we are doing is making a difference."
In addition to better control of blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risks, she says earlier diagnosis of diabetes and many of the new treatments also play a role in the decreasing death rates among people with diabetes.
Abraham Thomas, MD, MPH, is the division head of endocrinology and at diabetes at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Mich. He says the new findings mirror what he is seeing in his practice. "You can control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose, and this can really have a big impact on survival and quality of life," he says. "If you can take care of these things, you can cut down on [your] chance of dying and of developing all these other bad complications."
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