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30 January 2018

Media release

New report reveals chilling link between type 2 diabetes and heart disease

The 1.5 million Australians living with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to suffer a sudden cardiac death, where the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops working, compared to those without the condition, according to a new report.

The latest national snapshot of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease also reports that developing type 2 diabetes early in life is one of the greatest contributors to an early death.

The Dark Heart of Type 2 DiabetesReleased today by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, The Dark Heart of Type 2 Diabetes report shines light on the sinister interplay between type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in Australia.

The report reveals that cardiovascular disease, a common complication of type 2 diabetes, is the number one cause of death among Australians with type 2 diabetes and is a major contributor to the shortening of life expectancy by close to a decade (8.2 years for men and 9.1 years for women) seen in type 2 diabetes. It is responsible for one-in-three deaths in people with type 2 diabetes.

Report co-author and Head of Clinical Diabetes and Population Health at the Baker Institute, Professor Jonathan Shaw said that while great strides had been made in controlling blood glucose levels and thereby reducing the associated risk of kidney disease, loss of sight and limb complications, “cardiovascular disease remains a clear and present threat for people with type 2 diabetes”.

“The reality is that Australians with type 2 diabetes are much more likely to die from heart disease, and at a younger age, than those without the condition — regardless of whether their blood sugar levels are elevated or under control,” said Professor Shaw.

“Perhaps the greatest concern is the risk of sudden cardiac death which happens without warning, even among people with no history of heart disease. The importance of regular check-ups cannot be understated,” he said.

The Baker Institute report, supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly, notes that the number of people diagnosed with diabetes early in life is increasing rapidly.

“Over the last decade, we have seen reductions in heart disease deaths in older Australians with diabetes, yet we have not seen the same improvements in those under the age of 40,” said Professor Shaw.

Professor Shaw said that having type 2 diabetes has a greater effect on the risk of dying due to cardiovascular disease in women than it does in men. “It appears that the gender-associated protection against cardiovascular disease is lost in women with type 2 diabetes,” he said.

Professor Shaw noted that contrary to popular belief, controlling blood glucose levels alone does not adequately protect people with diabetes from dying of cardiovascular causes, such as sudden cardiac deaths, heart attack, heart failure or stroke.

“While glucose-lowering medicines can protect against some of the consequences of diabetes, such as blindness and kidney damage, people with type 2 diabetes remain at significant risk of cardiovascular disease and should speak to their doctors about lowering their risk,” he said.

The report recommends that Australians living with type 2 diabetes adopt a healthy diet, moderate weight reduction, stop smoking and increase physical activity. In addition to controlling blood sugar levels, it is essential to keep blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels.

The Dark Heart of Type 2 Diabetes report also found:

  • Diabetes is the fourth most common condition managed in general practice.
  • The lifetime risk of developing type 2 diabetes is one-in-three.
  • Type 2 diabetes is the leading cause of preventable cardiovascular disease.
  • An estimated two-thirds of Australians with type 2 diabetes also have cardiovascular disease.
  • Diabetes has a greater effect on the risk of death due to CVD in women than in men, as the gender-associated protection against CVD is lost in women with type 2 diabetes.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with type 2 diabetes have a higher incidence of CVD and death from CVD.
  • The annual cost of diabetes for medical care and government subsidies in Australia exceeds $10 billion.

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