Diabetes excess deaths well down, study indicates

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Posted 23/06/2013

People with diabetes now have a much lower risk of dying prematurely than they did in the mid-1990s according to new research. 

In 2009 people with diabetes were 1.5 times more likely to die prematurely than those without it, whereas in 1996 they were twice as likely to do so.The study, in journal Diabetologia, covering millions of Canadian and UK patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, concludes that this may be due to better treatment and earlier diagnosis. In the UK, the study covered more than 3 million patients. The excess risk of death for people with diabetes in 1996 was 114% but had fallen to 65% by 2009. In the Ontario study, comprising of 10 million patients, it fell from 90% to 51%.
The narrowing of the mortality gap was seen across all adult age-groups of men and women.

The authors of this study, however, acknowledge their findings should be treated with caution. They speculate that the improvements may be due to more aggressive treatment, including control of blood pressure and blood sugar levels but they say the findings may also reflect improved screening, meaning more patients nowadays have not had diabetes for as long.

Diabetes UK says thousands of patients are still dying prematurely every year. Since the mid 1990s the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK has climbed from fewer than 1.5 million to 3 million. The disease and its often-fatal complications, including heart disease, stroke and kidney failure, pose a huge and growing challenge for the NHS.

The director for Diabetes UK said the research was good news but he warned there was still a long way to go.  “Every year many thousands of people with diabetes in the UK are still dying before their time. This is unacceptable and urgent action is needed to further improve the situation.”

Dr Jonathan Valabhji, the NHS England’s national clinical director for obesity and diabetes, also welcomed the findings but he said there was still more work to do.  “There are wide regional variations across the country in helping patients manage their condition and this is now a key focus for us. By supporting patients to better manage their diabetes we can work towards reducing the number of patients who suffer complications including amputations or loss of sight”. 

Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashtons Legal, comments: “This is clearly good news but as noted it should be treated with caution. Diagnoses are being made earlier through early screening and so on, and so people are being managed sooner rather than having had diabetes for some time before being diagnosed. It is clearly good news that deaths are being cut as a result of this early screening”.


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