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Diabetes advances give patients a voice

New research about diabetes might affect the way some people who receive Social Security Disability benefits receive medical care for their ailments. Physicians are questioning their long-standing beliefs about Type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet.

Some new information indicates that physicians should refrain from pushing their older patients to rigorously control their blood sugar. Although an aggressive treatment regimen might be appropriate for a younger patient, physicians say older diabetics are not being heard by their doctors. Aggressive blood sugar control can lead to episodes of hypoglycemia and may also increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. Also, many diabetes medications carry significant and hazardous side effects, including weight gain, bone loss and increased cancer risk.

New guidelines and recommendations state that physicians should consider a wide range of alternative treatments. New information also suggests that the traditional method of increasing medication dosage along with increased symptoms might also be less effective than other approaches. Some physicians and researchers have experienced success when they started patients on high doses as soon as they were diagnosed.

Another option that is gaining appeal for many diabetics is bariatric surgery. Although the procedures' long-term effects still have not been fully examined, bariatric surgery leads to rapid weight loss and easier regulation of blood sugar levels.

Diabetes is poised to be one of the most influential public health problems in U.S. history. Estimates show that 48 million Americans could have Type 2 diabetes by 2025. Currently, about 24 million suffer from the malady. With the condition, patients are unable to effectively metabolize food, which can result in high blood sugar, increased risk of heart disease and strokes, kidney failure and nerve damage. And new and better treatment may help some people resume a normal life, where they can work and won't need SSD benefits.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "New strategies for treating diabetes," Ron Winslow, July 9, 2012.

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