More Time With Diabetes ups Stroke Risk

Ischemic stroke risk in type 2 diabetes patients increases with diabetes duration

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

(RxWiki News) Diabetes puts you at risk for a number of complications. Your risk of complications may be even greater the longer you have the disease. That is why it is important to spot and treat diabetes early.

People who have had diabetes for at least 10 years may have triple the risk of stroke, compared to those without diabetes.

"Prevent diabetes before it starts by keeping a healthy weight."

In the past, researchers have studied the link between diabetes and stroke in women.

This study - which was conducted by Mitchell S. V. Elkind, M.D., M.S., of Columbia University Medical Center, and colleagues - is the first to look at how a patient's risk of stroke is affected by how long he or she has had type 2 diabetes.

According to their results, long-term diabetes patients may have three times the risk of ischemic stroke. Furthermore, the risk of stroke increased three percent for every year a person had diabetes.

"The findings emphasize the chronic nature of diabetes and the fact that it damages the blood vessels over time," says Dr. Elkind.

He adds that even though overall stroke rates have been going down, the increase in diabetes rates at the same time may lead to a higher stroke burden in the future.

Ischemic stroke, which is the most common type of stroke, happens when blood cannot properly flow to the brain. Doctors know that diabetes patients are at risk of stroke. However, it still is not clear how the risk of stroke is influenced by the length of time someone has had diabetes.

For their study, Dr. Elkind and colleagues followed nearly 3,300 people who had never suffered a stroke. At the beginning of the study, about 22 percent of participants had type 2 diabetes. After nine years, another 10 percent developed the condition.

They found that the risk of stroke increased by 70 percent in people with diabetes for less than five years; 80 percent in people with diabetes for five to 10 years; and three-fold in people with diabetes for 10 years or more.

From these results, Dr. Elkind concludes that the risk of stroke associated with diabetes may have as much to do with how long you have had the disease as it does with the diagnosis itself.

Some patients, however, may not know they have diabetes until years after it has started. That is, they may have had diabetes for four to seven years before a doctor properly diagnoses them.

Dr. Elkind says a possible solution to these delayed diagnoses is for people to start practicing healthy behaviors like eating a healthy diet and exercising. Such behaviors are especially important for young people.

"We used to think of type 2 diabetes as a disease people get when they are older, after a lifetime of poor dietary habits," says Dr. Elkin. "But the age at diagnosis is getting younger and younger because of the obesity problem among young people."

"If how long a person has diabetes matters, young people with a long history of diabetes are more likely to develop complications earlier in life," Dr. Elkind explains.

He adds that it is possible that diabetes patients may start suffering strokes at a younger age. As such, he concludes, young people should be taught about diabetes and how to delay or prevent the condition.

The results of this study - called the Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS) - are published in the journal Stroke.

NOMAS is funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 2, 2012
Last Updated:
April 2, 2012