Good News from Medicine

Posted on April 18, 2014 by Howard Owens, MD

A recent study documents a dramatic decrease in the most serious complications of diabetes. A recent study documents a dramatic decrease in the most serious complications of diabetes.

The 4-17-14 edition of the New York Times reports a recently published long-term study of trends in the treatment of diabetes, which brings encouraging news to those who are undergoing treatment for this disease. The study documents a quite dramatic reduction in the most serious complications of diabetes over the period from 1990 to 2010. During that time, people receiving treatment for diabetes in this country experienced an overall 60% decrease in the death rate from heart attacks and elevated blood sugar, along with a 50% decrease in the incidence of strokes and lower limb amputations.

There were also smaller decreases in the rate of serious kidney disease. These changes represent a gradual but persistent improvement over time in the treatment of people with diabetes and in their general health. The improvement in complications began to show up around 1995 and has continued since that time.

The study was based on the analysis of four large data sets of the outcome of treatment for hundreds of thousands of patients.

The authors of the study attribute these results to a combination of improvements in medical care and to the development of more extensive patient education efforts and better integration of health care generally. Physicians have, over the years, instituted more effective methods of controlling blood sugar and high cholesterol, and public education has produced a continuing decline in smoking in patients with diabetes (as well as in the general population). Medical care providers have also increased their efforts to track the progress of patients with diabetes, so that those who are failing to follow through on treatment can be supported to get "back on track." The combined effect of all these factors has produced the decreases in the death rate and illness from heart attacks and strokes. 

Dr. Joel Zonszein, Director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center is quoted as saying that "educated patients tend to manage diabetes well."

As we all know, none of this is to suggest that diabetes is not still a very serious problem, particularly for people with mental illness who may be taking medications with metabolic side-effects. What this study confirms, however, is that there is great hope for improvement in your health, even if you have diabetes, as long as you follow a careful medical regimen.

The study therefore confirms the critical importance of our Fountain House Wellness programs, along with the integrated healthcare approach that has been pioneered at the Sidney Baer Center. One central premise of these programs is our conviction that a person with mental illness can learn to become an "educated patient," just as well as anyone else.

Howard Owens, MD
Board of Directors, Fountain House

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