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Updated 16 February 2016

Less heart problems for type 2 diabetics when diagnosed early

A new computer model suggests that detecting and treating type 2 diabetes earlier could decrease the risk of heart disease and related deaths.

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Earlier screening, diagnosis and treatment of type 2 diabetes may decrease the risk of heart problems like heart attacks and death, suggest new results from a computer model.

The timing of the diagnosis and the start of treatment appeared more important than the actual intensity of treatment, the researchers report in Diabetes Care.

"Actually, though it seems intuitive, the evidence for screening for type 2 diabetes is really not strong," said lead author Dr. William H. Herman of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

"The ideal study to look at screening for diabetes would be to screen a large population, diagnose and treat half, and to not tell other half that they have diabetes and follow them over time and compare outcomes," Herman told Reuters Health by phone. "Of course that study would be ethically unacceptable."

Type 2 diabetes, sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes, is when the body's cells are resistant to insulin or the body doesn't make enough of the hormone, so glucose remains in the bloodstream and can climb to dangerously high levels. Insulin gives glucose - or blood sugar - access to the body's cells to be used as fuel.

Read: Symptoms of diabetes 

 Diabetes screening for people at risk

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a government-backed panel on preventive healthcare, recently proposed an updated recommendation to screen people for abnormal blood sugar and type 2 diabetes if they are at an increased risk. That includes anyone age 45 and older.

One way to try to estimate the benefit of early screening is to use a computer model, which simulates the progression of diabetes and its complications, resulting health problems, quality of life and costs.

For the new estimates, Herman and his coauthors used data from a large European study of people age 40 to 69 without known diabetes who were screened and treated for the condition. In the original study, some participants who tested positive were treated intensively while other were treated routinely, and the authors found no difference in cardiovascular outcomes or death five years later.

The researchers used a computer model known as the Michigan Model to estimate what may have happened to the participants over the same five year period if they had not been screened, and their diabetes diagnoses had been delayed by three or six years.

If screening was delayed by three years, the researchers estimated that about 11 percent of people would likely experience a heart problem within five years, compared to about 8 percent when screening wasn't delayed.

If screening was delayed by six years, they estimated that about 13 percent of participants would experience a heart problem over the five years.

Read: Diagnosing diabetes 

Validity of the model

The USPSTF would not include a modelling study like this in its reviews, Herman said.

Richard Kahn of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill told Reuters Health he disagrees with the new findings.

"We don't know very much about the model whatsoever," based on what is included in the paper, said Kahn, who was previously the chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association.

The Michigan Model may not reflect actual biology or the way diabetes progresses for all people, he said.

Kahn has also researched the potential benefit of earlier screening for diabetes, and "I would be hard pressed to believe the three years makes a big difference."

Appropriate therapy must begin at diabetes diagnosis, but the exact point when screening happens is less important, he said.

Instituting more screening earlier in life would be costly, and may not have enough benefit to outweigh the cost, he said. A similar debate has centred on mammography for younger women in recent years.

Read more:

Diabetics face much higher risk of heart damage

Diabetes causes more heart disease in women

High-salt diets can cause heart woes in diabetics 

 

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