Regular Check-Ups Means Better Diabetes Care, say Researchers

Diabetic patients who see their doctor every week or two do better at controlling their blood sugar levels and staying healthy, say researchers.  In addition, they are less likely to develop life-threatening complications of the disease.

Around 25.8 million Americans have the disease diabetes, with a further 79 million being pre-diabetic with symptoms indicating they will go on to develop it and a possible further 7 million undiagnosed.

Diabetes occurs commonly in two forms: Type 1 diabetes usually manifests during childhood or young adulthood, is not caused by lifestyle or obesity and cannot be prevented or cured.  However, Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for by far the larger part of the figures, is associated strongly with obesity, an inactive lifestyle, and an unhealthy diet containing too much fat and sugar.  Type 2 diabetes once occurred almost exclusively in older age, but is now becoming prevalent in younger people as obesity levels soar.

Master of Public Health Fritha Morrison from Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Endocrinology Division atBoston,Massachusetts, and her team studied stats from almost 2,500 diabetic patients who visited two hospitals between 2000 and 2009.  They noted the frequency of medical check-ups and the levels of cholesterol and blood sugar test results, and found patients who visited the doctor more often got their diabetes under control faster.

Dr Morrison and her colleagues divided the patients into groups according to how often they saw a doctor, and found that patients receiving insulin who came to see the doctor every week or every fortnight took just 4.4 months to achieve their target blood sugar levels.  Patients who only saw their doctor every three to six months took more than two years to achieve the same result.

They also looked at the same results for patients not receiving insulin, and found those who saw their doctor once a week or fortnight still had much better results.  They achieved their results in 10.1 months – compared to those who saw the doctor only infrequently, who took more than four years, 52.8 months, to achieve their targets.

Achieving targets, in terms of controlling blood sugar, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and often losing weight, is vital for diabetic patients, as it lowers their risk of suffering serious side effects from their condition, such as blindness, nerve damage, kidney problems, heart disease and stroke.

The report, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that visiting your doctor once a week or once a fortnight can significantly improve your ability to control your diabetes and stay healthy longer.  They noted that with every doubling of the interval between visits to the doctor the time taken to achieve targets increased by 35% in patients not getting insulin and 17% in those who did.  Similar results were seen in the figures for blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Dr Allan Goroll, from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, who wrote an accompanying comment with the study, commented that the research threw up no clues as to why the frequent visits improved the patients’ results.  More study is needed to understand why patient behaviors changed with visits that are more regular.  No guidelines exist for how often a diabetic should visit his doctor.

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