Diabetics Don’t Know Enough

Many diabetics are unaware of the causes and risks of heart disease, the most common complication and cause of death among diabetics.  A limited understanding of heart disease and other aspects of diabetes may prevent many from taking steps to lead healthier and more enjoyable lives.

Diabetes, a disorder of the body’s ability to use sugar (glucose), puts people at risk for a number of complications.  Drugs and lifestyle changes can help lower the risks of such complications.

Insulin is a hormone we produce to regulate the concentration of sugar in our blood.  Nearly all type 2 diabetes, the most common type, stems from a condition called insulin resistance.  Patients with insulin resistance produce insulin, but their bodies are not able to use it to adjust blood sugar levels.

In December 2000, the American Heart Association (AHA) conducted a survey among 532 patients over age 18 who have type 2 diabetes.  The patients, drawn from across the country were interviewed about their understanding of diabetes’ causes, treatments, and associated conditions.  The results show that most diabetics have a lot to learn about their disease.

Only 52 percent of diabetics were familiar with the term insulin resistance.  Among those who had heard of it, many had only a vague idea of its meaning.  Even among those who took Glitizones (diabetes cheap drugs which specifically target insulin resistance), one-third had never heard of insulin resistance.

The survey also reveals that while most patients realize that diabetes puts them at risk for certain health risks, their perceptions of the most common complications are not accurate.  For example, only 33 percent of diabetics agree that a heart condition is among the most common complications of diabetes.  Few saw other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure (16 percent), high cholesterol (8 percent), and blood circulation problems (21 percent) as likely complications.  Instead, patients believed vision problems and amputation were the most common complications of diabetes.

In reality, 63 percent of diabetics experience one or more cardiovascular complications, far more than any other condition.  Forty-six percent of diabetics have high blood pressure, 28 percent have blood circulation problems, 28 percent have high cholesterol, and 19 percent have a heart condition.  In contrast, a quarter of diabetics experience eye problems and only 3 percent are amputees.

In a press release for the survey, Sidney C. Smith Jr., M.D., Chief Science Officer for the AHA, remarks that “research from the past few years has helped us to better understand the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and the role insulin plays in both.  The American Heart Association considers diabetes one of the… major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately, diabetes patients still tend to treat heart disease as a separate concern.”

Many participants in the survey believe that diabetes interferes with their enjoyment of life and would like more effective treatments.

However, 79 percent of patients admit that they could be doing a better job managing their diabetes.  Eighty-nine percent of them recognize that proper diet and exercise can help them better manage their diabetes, yet only 59 percent avoid high fat foods, only 39 percent monitor their body weight, and just 32 percent exercise regularly.

Dr. Smith points out that “exercising, maintaining a healthy diet, and controlling body weight can prevent and control not just cardiovascular disease, but diabetes as well.”

The AHA survey also shows that most diabetics struggle with serious weight problems.
According to body mass index (a relationship between height and weight), 80 percent of diabetics are overweight or obese.

The negative effects of diabetes were not limited to physical conditions.

Thirty percent of patients feel that diabetes “depresses” them.

One-third feel diabetes prevents them from “getting a lot of enjoyment out of life” and 26 percent report that diabetes prevents them from feeling

The results from the AHA survey show that most patients do not have all the information they need to actively lessen the negative impact diabetes has on their lives.

In the press release, David Kendall, M.D., co-chair of the Partners Against Insulin Resistance Advisory Panel and medical director of the International Diabetes Center at Park Nicollet in Minneapolis, adds, “the good news is, insulin resistance is treatable.  The bad news is, few patients know about it.  The goal is to increase awareness by reaching out to patients, their families, and the medical community.”