NEW YORK — 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 Thursday’s 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.
The obese are already at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes. But diabetics seem to have more narrowing of their blood vessels — a condition that can further foster those problems.
In the 1990s, key studies showed that diabetics could keep their blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol under control. The research suggested that vision and heart problems, leg and foot amputations and other diabetes complications were not necessarily inevitable.
Meanwhile, insurance programs expanded coverage of blood sugar monitors and diabetes treatment. Gradually, larger numbers of diabetics were diagnosed earlier and with milder disease.