It has been well established that having diabetes increases the risk of dying, compared to not having the condition. This is in large part because diabetes increases the risk for cardiovascular issues, including heart attack and stroke. It is also a leading cause of kidney disease.
However, new research suggests that things have improved significantly for people with diabetes in recent years. Data on Ontario diabetes patients show that their excess mortality risk has been cut by almost half since 1996.
The good news
“There have been so many advances in diabetes treatment, and we’ve seen a lowering of complication rates,” says Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, a scientist at Women’s College Research Institute and lead author of a recent study of diabetes mortality in Ontario and the U.K. “So we wanted to know, can we tell our patients that now, having diabetes today is not as bad as having it 15 years ago?”
To find out, Dr. Lipscombe and her research colleagues used information from healthcare databases to look at diabetes mortality in Ontario and the U.K. every year from 1996 to 2009.
They found that in Ontario in 1996, people with diabetes had about double the mortality risk of those without diabetes. In 2009, mortality risk for people with diabetes was 1.5 times that of people without diabetes – a drop of about 50 per cent.
“That’s good news,” Dr. Lipscombe says. “It tells us that we’re correct: all the advances we’ve seen in the care of diabetes, and what we’ve learned about lowering the risk of complications and early detection of the disease, have now translated into lower mortality rates.”
The decrease in excess risk of dying was similar in the U.K. data. The study was published in the medical journal Diabetologia.
Addressing cardiovascular risks
It’s likely that the drop in excess mortality in people with diabetes is related to advances in care – particularly in addressing cardiovascular risks in diabetes patients. The most common cause of death worldwide is cardiovascular events – such as heart attack and stroke – and risks are even higher in people with diabetes.
Current blood sugar control guidelines are more aggressive than they were 15 years ago, there are more medications for controlling blood sugar, and diabetes treatment now also focuses on other factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and eliminating smoking. All of those factors contribute to a lower risk of cardiovascular events.
People are also more likely to be screened for diabetes now, compared to 1996. That means it’s being diagnosed at an earlier stage more often, which has likely contributed to better overall health in the population of people with diabetes.
Rising rates of diabetes
The good news for people with diabetes is that if they manage it well, they are likely to be able to live a normal, healthy life. Good diabetes management often includes medication as well as lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, keeping fit and maintaining a healthy weight.
However, there are still health risks associated with the condition. For that reason, and given the rapidly rising rates of diabetes in Ontario, it’s imperative that we look at ways to prevent diabetes before it happens.
This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Feb. 4, 2014