New research suggests better education about causes of type 2 diabetes could improve chance of reducing harmful effects of the condition.
A new study has highlighted that more should be done to remind people with type 2 diabetes that the condition could be reversed.
With around 10% of the total NHS budget in the UK going towards treating diabetes, researchers want to change the perception that type 2 diabetes is an incurable condition.
Researchers from Glasgow University and the University of Newcastle said that better education about managing the effects of type 2 diabetes, including lower blood sugar levels and more exercise and a healthier diet could improve the health of people with the condition.
In a recently published report in the BMJ the researchers said: “Remission of diabetes (no longer having diabetes, at least for a period) is clearly attainable for some, possibly many, patients but is currently very rarely achieved or recorded. Greater awareness, documentation, and surveillance of remissions should improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.”
However, researchers reported that less than 0.1% of people with type 2 diabetes on a Scottish database were recorded as being in remission in 2017.
Reasons why such poor reversal of type 2 diabetes was recorded included that the amount of weight loss required – around 10% of body weight or 15kg for people with severe obesity – is difficult to achieve.
In addition there is no standard way to assess when someone is in remission from diabetes, and it is not routinely recorded.
Type 2 diabetes is estimated to affect around 5-10% of the population - around 3.2 million people in the UK.
Most people with the condition are managed entirely within primary care, with diabetes making up a big part of the work carried out at GP surgeries.
The medical costs for people with diabetes around the world can be two to three times more than the average for age and sex matched people without diabetes.
The report added: “Application of current clinical guidelines to reduce glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels and cardiovascular risks, primarily with drugs and generic lifestyle advice, has improved clinical outcomes, but many patients still develop vascular complications, and life expectancy remains up to six years shorter than in people without diabetes. The diagnosis carries important social and financial penalties for individuals, as well as poor health prospects.”
The authors of the study have suggested new guidelines should be available for doctors to define remission from diabetes.
Blood sugar levels are measured using a term called “HbA1c”, which stands for glycated haemoglobin.
Researchers said the recommend remission is of type 2 diabetes would be defined when there are two blood sugar measurements of less than 6.5% HbA1c, at least two months apart, when no diabetes medicines had been taken for at least two months.
An NHS Behind the Headlines report of the study concluded: “If you have type 2 diabetes and are overweight, you might want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of attempting to achieve remission through weight loss. This will require a sustained effort with diet and exercise. Your GP may be able to refer you to a dietitian or other health care professionals who can help you with a weight-loss programme.
“There is no guarantee of success, but there is a high likelihood of achieving it – the researchers say that about 75% of obese people who manage to lose 15kg of weight go into diabetes remission. In addition, losing a lot of weight if you are obese is likely to have many other health benefits, even if you don’t bring your blood sugar levels down to non-diabetic levels.
“It’s important to know that this applies only to type 2 diabetes. It is not an option for people with type 1 diabetes, which is an auto-immune disease that usually begins in childhood.”
Read the report in BMJ
Find out more about type 2 diabetes
Read the DRWF leaflets A healthy diet and diabetes and Exercise and diabetes here