There is a general attitude that diabetes is a treatable disease, that’s it’s no big deal, that you just take medicine and you have a normal life.
The truth is diabetics have a 2.5 increased rate of death, meaning people with diabetes are 80 percent more likely to die prematurely than those without the disease.
A new British analysis ‒ published in the March 3 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine ‒ confirms that diabetes is associated with higher mortality.
And it’s not just diabetes that’s killing them. Besides dying from vascular problems caused by diabetes, people with the blood sugar disease are also more likely to die prematurely from many other causes, including cancer, infections, falls, liver disease, mental disorders and even suicide.
Although all the reasons that result in the greater risk of death among diabetics aren’t known, high blood sugar and inflammation are key players. These can decrease the body’s ability to fight off infections and even cancer.
A team lead by John Danesh, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Cambridge in the UK analyzed deaths among 820,900 people who took part in 97 studies. Among those in these studies, 123,205 died.
The risk of premature death was closely associated with blood sugar levels, with an excess risk of death at blood glucose fasting levels exceeding 100 milligrams per deciliter. There was no excess risk of death at fasting levels of 70 to 100 mg per dL, the researchers found.
The risk of dying from vascular disease, not surprisingly, was much higher in people with diabetes. But people with diabetes were also at increased risk for death from liver and kidney disease, pneumonia, other infectious diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other ills.
Danesh’s team also found that people with diabetes were 25 percent more likely to die from cancer, with scientists finding a moderate association between the disease and death from liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung, bladder or breast cancer. They were also 70 percent more likely to die from falls than people without diabetes.
In addition, diabetics were 64 percent more likely to die from mental disorders and 58 percent more likely to die from suicide, mostly because they were more likely to be depressed. Indeed, another study showed that management of diabetes can cause chronic stress and strain, which in the long run, may increase risk of depression – the two are linked not only behaviorally but biologically. (See my post ‘Diabetes, Depression Can be a Two-Way Street’ here.)
Broken down, the hazard ratios for people with diabetes vs. people without diabetes were:
- 2.32 for death from vascular causes
- 1.80 for death from any cause
- 1.73 for death from other causes
- 1.25 for death from cancer
Summing up, the study authors write: “These findings highlight the need to better understand and prevent the multi-system consequences of diabetes.”
The challenge before researchers therefore is to continue to find a cure and to prevent diabetes ‒ it cannot just be managed with drugs.