In the midst of the diabetes epidemic, a glimmer of good news: Heart attacks, strokes and other complications from the disease are plummeting.
Over the last two decades, the rates of heart attacks and strokes among diabetics fell by more than 60 percent, a new federal study shows. The research also confirms earlier reports of drastic declines in diabetes-related kidney failure and amputations.
The drop is mainly attributed to better screening, medicines and care. The improvements came even as the number of U.S. adults with diabetes more than tripled in those 20 years.
"It is great news," said Dr. John Buse, a University of North Carolina diabetes specialist, of the drop in rates.
"The prognosis for folks with diabetes has improved dramatically over the last two decades, at least for those with good access to care," Buse said in an email. He was not involved in the study.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research is reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Diabetes is a disease in which sugar builds up in the blood. The most common form is tied to obesity, and the number of diabetics has ballooned with the rise in obesity. Today, roughly 1 in 10 U.S. adults has the disease, and it is the nation's seventh leading cause of death, according to the CDC.
For the new study, the CDC tallied complication rates from 1990 to 2010 for diabetics ages 20 or older.
During that time, the heart attack rate fell 68 percent, from 141 to 45.5 per 10,000 diabetics, according to hospital records.
The decline was so great that, despite the growing ranks of diabetics, the actual number hospitalized with heart attacks dropped from more than 140,000 to about 136,000.
The stroke rate fell less dramatically — but still declined by more than half, finishing at 53 per 10,000. The heart attack and stroke rates for diabetics are essentially even now, lead author Edward Gregg noted.