Depressed People With Diabetes: Blood Sugar Risk?
Experts say biological changes or a lack of interest in self-care might be to blame
By Serena Gordon
TUESDAY, May 21 (HealthDay News) -- Depression can affect almost every aspect of life, but some of the changes brought about by the disorder can be downright dangerous for those with diabetes.
New research has found that people with diabetes who are depressed have more than a 40 percent higher risk of having a severe low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) episode that lands them in the hospital compared to people with diabetes who aren't depressed.
"Depression is a very common accompanying condition for people with diabetes. It's important to know that depression can lead to hypoglycemic episodes," said study author Dr. Wayne Katon, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle.
"About one-quarter of all severe drug side effects that lead people to an ER visit or hospitalization are related to dramatic drops in blood sugar. Hypoglycemia is a dangerous and expensive problem. And, for people with diabetes, depression increases the risk of serious hypoglycemia by about 40 percent over five years, and leads to a greater number of hypoglycemic episodes," he explained.
Results of the study are published in the May/June issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.
People with diabetes generally take medication that helps lower their blood sugar levels. These medications can be pills, or in the case of the hormone insulin, injections. However, sometimes these medications work too well, and they drop blood sugar levels too low. It's the glucose (sugar) in the blood that fuels the body and the brain. Without enough glucose, the body and brain can't work properly. If blood sugar levels drop too low, people can pass out. If the hypoglycemic episode is severe enough, people can even die.
So, someone living with diabetes has to maintain a balance between the medications they take to lower their blood sugar and what they eat. Other factors, such as physical activity and stress, also can affect blood sugar levels.
The study included just over 4,100 people with diabetes. Nearly 500 of these people met the criteria for having major depression during the five-year study period.
The average age of the study volunteers was 63, and the average duration of diabetes was 10 years. Most -- 96 percent -- had type 2 diabetes. About one-third were taking insulin to control their diabetes. Just 1.4 percent were experiencing complications of diabetes.
In the five years before the study began, 8 percent of those with both depression and diabetes reported having had a severe hypoglycemic episode compared to 3 percent of the non-depressed people with diabetes. During the five-year study, nearly 11 percent of the depressed people with diabetes had a severe hypoglycemic episode compared to just over 6 percent of the non-depressed people with diabetes.