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Many Diabetics Ignorant of Heart Risk

Survey: Just 33% aware it's a serious threat

MONDAY, May 21, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- A surprisingly large percentage of diabetics are not aware they face major heart disease and stroke risks, a survey finds.

"One problem is that the major focus has been on diabetes itself and controlling blood sugar, because that is the recognizable part of diabetes. Many don't know that 75 percent of them will die of heart disease and stroke down the line," says Dr. Sidney C. Smith Jr., chief science officer of the American Heart Association (AHA), which released the survey results today.

Only a third of those surveyed listed heart disease among the "most serious" diabetes-related complications, he says.

The survey was sponsored by Partners Against Insulin Resistance (PAIR), an educational program underwritten by two pharmaceutical companies. PAIR focuses on the effects of insulin resistance, a condition in which the body cannot use the insulin it produces effectively. Insulin resistance is a major factor in adult-onset diabetes. One effect of insulin resistance is to tip the balance of blood lipids toward the dangerous side, increasing levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Only 52 percent of the 532 adult-onset diabetes patients in the survey recognized the term insulin resistance, and slightly more than 50 percent recognized that insulin resistance is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the survey finds.

"The very people who should be most aware of the association often are not," Smith says.

Meanwhile, 75 percent of the diabetics in the survey reported one or more major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Nearly half had high blood pressure, 28 percent had high cholesterol and 28 percent had blood circulation problems.

"The survey makes the American Heart Association feel that there is an opportunity and a challenge here," Smith says. "We are initiating several programs in two directions. The first is to educate diabetics about the problem of heart disease, and the second is to make physicians more aware of the problem."

The AHA will work with other organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association (ADA), Smith says. Meanwhile, the ADA is planning its own public awareness effort, says Dr. Christopher D. Saudek, president-elect of the organization and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"It's too early to talk about the specifics, but the goal will be to increase awareness of the relationship between diabetes and the risk of heart disease and stroke," Saudek says.

The ADA already has anticipated the new recommendations on blood cholesterol levels, released by a government panel last week, Saudek says. Those recommendations lower the acceptable level of LDL cholesterol to 100. "That LDL level of 100 is already in our book," he says.

What To Do

Some doctors plan to tell patients that diabetes is tantamount to heart disease.

"We want people with diabetes to understand the importance of controlling cardiovascular risk factors," Saudek says. "It's not enough to look at just blood sugar. They should also look at cardiovascular risk factors like blood cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking."

Information about diabetes and its many complications are available from the AHA , the ADA and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Read other HealthDay articles about diabetes and heart disease.

If you're interested in clinical trials for diabetes, check Veritas Medicine.

SOURCES: Interviews with Sidney C. Smith Jr., M.D., chief science officer, American Heart Association, Dallas, and Christopher D. Saudek, M.D., president-elect, American Diabetes Association and professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore; AHA; Partners Against Insulin Resistance
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