April 10, 2007 -- Retired pro football player Ron Springs knows firsthand about the dangers of ignoring type 2 diabetes.
The former Dallas Cowboys cornerback, who is now 50, lost his right foot and several toes on his left foot to the disease. And he spent the last three years on dialysis due to diabetes-related kidney failure before receiving the kidney of friend and former teammate Everson Walls six weeks ago.
Diagnosed 16 years ago, Springs now blames the many complications on his failure to take his diabetes seriously for over a decade.
"I'll tell anyone that I was naïve, I ignored it, and I didn't believe it could happen to a national football player who had been in shape all his life," he says. "But it happened to me."
Still recovering from his transplant surgery, Springs made the comments Tuesday at a news conference held to release the report, "State of Diabetes Complications in America," issued by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE). The report was paid for by drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline. The company is a WebMD sponsor.
Among the major findings:
- The cost of treating diabetes complications in the U.S. was estimated at $22.9 billion in 2006.
- 3 out of 5 people with type 2 diabetes have at least one other serious health problem related to their disease.
- The cost of treating the complications of diabetes averages $10,000 per patient per year, with patients paying nearly $1,600 of that out of their own pockets.
"The risk of death for people with diabetes is about twice that of people without diabetes of a similar age," said AACE spokesman Daniel Einhorn, MD, FACP.
Einhorn pointed out that uncontrolled diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults under the age of 75 and the leading cause of kidney failure, accounting for 44% of new cases in 2002. It is also responsible for 60% of noninjury foot amputations.
"Every cardiologist will tell you that the diabetics simply don't do as well as patients who don't have diabetes," he said.
The new report is an analysis of data from two large, national studies -- the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).
It was released Tuesday at the AACE 16th Annual Meeting and Clinical Congress in Seattle, and was conducted in partnership with a diabetes complications consortium that includes the National Kidney Foundation, the National Federation of the Blind, the Amputee Coalition of America, and The Mended Hearts, Inc.
How to Manage Diabetes
Einhorn tells WebMD that the report makes it clear that patients are suffering needlessly because of poor disease management.
"We have the tools to do it right, so it is clear that we have not focused enough on early detection, early and aggressive treatment, and prevention of complications," he says.
He adds that the patients he sees as medical director of San Diego's Scripps Whittier Institute for Diabetes tend to be educated about the lifestyle changes they need to make to keep their diabetes under control, and they usually receive aggressive, early drug treatment with a combination of medications, if needed.
"As a result we don't see many complications," he says. "We are living proof that complications don't have to happen."
Good advice, he says, but something that most patients just can't or won't do.
"The problem with telling people to go make all these lifestyle changes and come back in six months, is that six months becomes a year and people who need to be on medication often go without treatment for extended periods," he says.
"As a result, 50% of patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes today already have complications that took some years to develop. We are obviously late to the game."