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Diabetes Soaring Among American Adults: Report

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 5 (HealthDay News) -- The number of American adults treated for diabetes more than doubled between 1996 and 2007, rising from about 9 million to 19 million, says a federal government report released Wednesday.

By age groups, the number of adults treated for diabetes increased from 4.3 million to 8 million among people age 65 and older; 3.6 million to 8.9 million among adults aged 45 to 64; and 1.2 million to 2.4 million among people aged 18 to 44, reported the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Diabetes comes in two forms: type 1, an autoimmune disorder in which patients lack the insulin-producing cells needed to control blood sugar; and type 2, often related to obesity, where cells gradually lose sensitivity to insulin. Over 95 percent of diabetes cases are of the type 2 variety.

One expert wasn't surprised by the new report.

"Rates of diabetes have risen in all age groups. Twenty years ago, type 2 diabetes was unheard of in children and young adults, but now it is being diagnosed even in these younger age groups," said Dr. Christine Resta of the division of endocrinology at Maimonides Medical Center, New York City. "Part of this rise is increased detection -- patients are being evaluated and tested sooner and more often. But part of it is a real increase in the rates."

Resta is sure of one culprit behind the soaring numbers of American diabetics. "The percentage of U.S. adults who are overweight or obese has also risen dramatically, and there is no doubt that rising rates of obesity are linked to the rising rates of diabetes," she said.

The total treatment costs for diabetes also climbed from $18.5 billion to nearly $41 billion during that time, according to the AHRQ's analysis of data from the national Medical Expenditure Panel survey.

Other diabetes-related costs rose as well. The cost of outpatient care for adults with diabetes doubled from about $5 billion to $10 billion between 1996 and 2007.

During those 11 years, total costs of prescription drugs for adults diabetes patients also increased nearly fourfold, from $4 billion to $19 billion. In addition, the per-patient cost of prescription drugs more than doubled, jumping from $495 to $1,048 a year.

"Costs have risen for a number of reasons," Resta said. "Of course, with more patients, there are more costs. But even the cost per patient has gone up. Newer diabetes medications are expensive, often 10 times the cost of older generic medicines. When patients are diagnosed younger, they are more likely to eventually require multiple diabetes medications, which also drives up costs."

And with every diabetes-linked complication, medical bills rise too.

"The longer the duration of diabetes, the more likely the patient is to have complications," Resta explained. "Each of these complications (eye damage, kidney damage, nerve damage, foot infections, cardiovascular disease) adds to the cost of taking care of diabetes. Treating the complications is often much more expensive than treating the blood sugars. So all of these factors are contributiing to the skyrocketing costs."

More information

The U.S. National Diabetes Education Program explains how you can prevent diabetes.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Christine Resta, M.D., division of endocrinology, Maimonides Medical Center, New York City; Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, news release, Jan. 5, 2011

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