A Standard Blood Test May Predict Heart Disease Risk in Diabetics

blood test diabetesA new study suggests that a standard test given to diabetics to test blood glucose levels could also show whether they are at risk from heart attack or stroke. Having a heart attack or stroke is the most common cause of death in people with Type II diabetes, who are generally considered to be at much greater risk of cardiovascular disease.  But some diabetics may have a lower risk and may not need to take quantities of medication.

Type II diabetes, which is on the increase as the obesity epidemic takes its toll on the nation’s health and fitness, can cause a number of health problems from numbness in the extremities to renal failure.  It also doubles the risk of developing heart disease.

Because of this risk diabetic patients have often been treated with strong cholesterol-lowering and blood pressure reducing drugs, which may have undesirable side effects for some sufferers.  These can include dizziness, light-headedness, rashes, reduced appetite, nausea and even depression and insomnia.  Rarer side effects of some types of medication may include renal or hepatic failure.  Some people with diabetes are known to have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and it is obviously undesirable for these patients to have to take unnecessary medication.

Now studies have shown that the HbA1c blood test, or glycated hemoglobin test can also predict the 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease.  The test is used to assist with  the diagnosis of diabetes, and is also used over a period of months by doctors to monitor how well their diabetic patients are controlling their blood sugar

Medical researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, studied 11,820 men and 24,674 women who participated in two health studies collecting data on the glycated hemoglobin test.  Men who took part were monitored for 11.8 years and women for 10.2 years, participants being a mix of diabetics and non-diabetics.  The researchers noted how many people in the study had heart attacks or strokes, and related findings to the HbA1c test results.  They reported that of the 685 women with Type II diabetes 125 had a stroke or heart attack, and so did 170 of the 563 diabetic men.

They found that the statistics showed over 70% of the female diabetics had a less than 20% risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  Only 24.5% of the men had a similarly reduced rate. The researchers felt this discrepancy could be due to the delayed risk for women who benefit from the protective effects of the hormone estrogen up to menopause.

While further research may be needed to confirm the study’s findings, it seems likely the HbA1c test will prove useful in indicating when diabetics may not need medication for cholesterol or hypertension.

However, some medical researchers may disagree.  In a response to the study, Dr. Mark Pletcher, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of California, said he did not think the test would change the way doctors treat diabetics.  He said most doctors would feel putting all diabetic patients on cholesterol and blood pressure reducing medication would be the best course because of the long term increased risks diabetics run of developing heart disease.

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