Diabetics are living a lot longer these days, government scientists reported Tuesday.
The biggest decline observed in a new study of diabetes patients was in deaths from heart disease and stroke: they dropped a striking 40% between 1997 and 2006.
Diabetic deaths from all causes declined by 23%, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Diabetes Care.
The study’s authors credited less smoking, more exercise and better medical treatments – including for cholesterol and high blood pressure – with the sharp decline in deaths.
The declines were seen equally in men and women.
Officials said the good news should not lead to less vigilance.
“Taking care of your heart through healthy lifestyle choices is making a difference, but Americans continue to die from a disease that can be prevented,” said Dr. Ann Albright, diabetes expert the Centers for Disease Control.
Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death and the top cause of adult blindness and non-injury-related foot amputations.
The number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes has more than tripled since 1980, primarily due to increases in Type 2 adult onset diabetes, which is linked to obesity, inactivity and aging.
The CDC estimates that 25.8 million Americans have diabetes.
The city health department has declared that New York is suffering a diabetes epidemic. More than 700,000 New Yorkers have the disease – and nearly a third don’t even know it.
Diabetics have high blood sugar, either because their bodies do not produce enough sugar-metabolizing insulin, or because they become resistant to insulin’s effects.
A diabetes diagnosis in middle age used to mean the patient would live an average of 10 fewer years, the study authors said.
“This excess risk is now considerably lower,” they wrote.
The researchers from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health crunched numbers for 250,000 adults.
Because people with diabetes are living longer and the rate of new cases being diagnosed is increasing, scientists expect the total number of people with the disease will continue to rise.
Diabetes costs America an estimated $174 billion every year.