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Young Diabetics Encounter Heart Problems

by Jennifer Wider, MD

(Washington DC, 11/20/03): Type 2 diabetes has long been implicated as a risk factor in cardiovascular disease in adults. A new study published in the November 2003 issue of Diabetes Care reveals that people with early-onset type 2 diabetes are at an even greater risk for a heart attack. This is especially true for women. Early-onset diabetes type 2, defined by the study as a diagnosis of diabetes between the ages of 18 and 44, seems to be a significant risk factor for heart disease.

Researchers from the Center for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Ore., used clinical data from the medical records of 7,844 adults who were newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. They compared the results of people diagnosed before and after the age of 45 in an attempt to determine if diabetes played a more aggressive role in younger adults. Although diabetes made the chance of stroke and heart attack more likely for young and old alike, the risk was much more prominent in young people.

"Our study is the first that we are aware of to show that the risk of heart disease is greater in younger diabetic women," says Kathryn Pedula, MS, senior research associate at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, and one of the study's investigators. "Further research is necessary to determine why this is true."

One possible explanation is that women in this age category and their physicians may not take chest pain seriously enough. Heart disease is more common in older patients and symptoms in a younger patient that might predict a more dangerous outcome may be ignored, "Measures to prevent a more severe event, such as a myocardial infarction, are not always initiated," Pedula said.

The number of diabetes cases is on the rise in the United States. "Young adults are the fastest growing adult group for both obesity and diabetes," Pedula said. "Unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are major contributors to both obesity and the development of type 2 diabetes."

People with diabetes have too much glucose or sugar in their blood. Their bodies are unable to properly absorb the glucose into their cells. There are several types of diabetes-- the main ones are type 1 and type 2. Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age, but being overweight, inactive and having a family history of the disease can increase the chance of getting it. Diabetes can shorten a person's life and contribute to the development of heart, eye, blood vessel and kidney diseases.

Diabetic women may have fertility problems and are at an increased risk for pregnancy complications. Babies born to diabetic mothers tend to be heavier and may cause problems during labor and delivery. But young diabetic women are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease when compared with men in the same age group. "This is because young women use more health care services than do young men, thereby increasing the opportunity for diabetes diagnosis," explains Pedula.

People need to be aware of their risk for developing diabetes. "A family history of type 2 diabetes and obesity are strong risk factors," Pedula said, and in women, "a history of gestational diabetes (elevated blood glucose during pregnancy) is also a risk factor for diabetes later in life." Weight management and exercise can dramatically lower a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The Society for Women's Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its Board of Directors.

© November 20, 2003 Society for Women's Health Research

Created: 11/20/2003  -  Jennifer Wider, M.D.
Reviewed: 11/21/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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