Dangers of the Unknown

Elderly patients with undiagnosed diabetes face greater risk of death while hospitalized

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) New research shows that elderly patients with undiagnosed high blood glucose may face an increased risk of dying in the hospital.

In a study of more than 600 elderly patients admitted to different hospital departments, Spanish and Italian researchers found that 25 percent of elderly patients (excluding those already diagnosed with diabetes) had fasting glucose levels of 126 mg/dl or greater, the glucose level used to diagnose diabetes.

Among those patients with fasting glucose levels greater than 126 mg/dl, the in-hospital death rate was 18 percent, compared to only 8 percent among those with glucose levels less than 126 mg/dl. Furthermore, the death rate among those with glucose levels greater than 180 mg/dl was 31 percent.

In light of these results, the researchers urge hospitals to conduct routine blood glucose tests of elderly patients upon admittance.

According to lead author Dr. Pedro Iglesias from the Department of Endocrinology at Hospital Ramon y Cajal in Madrid, the study's findings clearly demonstrate that high fasting glucose levels significantly increase the risk of death during hospitalization, especially in undiagnosed diabetes patients.

This increased risk of death during hospitalization, says co-author Professor Fabio Monzani from the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Pisa, highlights the importance of determining fasting glucose levels in elderly patients as soon as they are admitted to the hospital. Doing so will allow hospitals to provide intensive therapy to high-risk patients, reducing their risk of death and improving their path to recovery.

Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood. In diabetic patients, blood sugar levels become high because of compromised production of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas to control blood sugar.

While 18.8 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, another 7 million Americans go undiagnosed. An estimated 79 million people have prediabetes, or high blood sugar levels that put an individual at high risk of diabetes.

The study will appear in the March issue of the International Journal of Clinical Practice.

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Last Updated:
February 28, 2011