Thousands aged 50+ have undiagnosed diabetes

Study reveals burden of type 2 diabetes
  • Deborah Condon

Around 120,000 Irish adults aged 50 and older have type 2 diabetes, however 10% of these cases remain undiagnosed, new research has found.

According to the latest study from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) - an ongoing study of older people in Ireland - 10% of people over the age of 50 have type 2 diabetes and this rises to 16% among those over the age of 80.

That is equivalent to around 120,000 people, however one in 10 remains undiagnosed. Meanwhile, a further 5.5% of people over the age of 50 have pre-diabetes, putting them at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The study found that type 2 diabetes was more common in men (12%) than women (7%) and the risk of developing it increased with age. Some 5% of those aged 50-59 had the condition and this increased to 16% in those aged 80 or more.

Those with a history of high blood pressure and those with central obesity, i.e. excessive fat around the belly and abdomen area, also appeared to be particularly at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Other risk factors included high cholesterol levels and low levels of physical activity.

The study found that people living in Dublin city or county were less likely to have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes compared to people living outside of Dublin. Those with private health insurance were also less likely to have undiagnosed diabetes compared to those without health cover.

The researchers pointed out that this study is unique because it provides the first national prevalence of type 2 diabetes, including undiagnosed cases and pre-diabetes, in the older population.

"These findings confirm for the first time the total burden of type 2 diabetes in older adults in Ireland. While efforts are underway to improve care and access to services for those with diabetes, a significant number of older adults with diabetes remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated," commented the study's lead author, Dr Siobhan Leahy.

The researchers emphasised that diabetes accounts for around 10% of the entire health budget because it is a leading cause of death and disability in this country. It can increase the risk of a number of serious health issues, including heart attacks, heart failure, kidney disease, eye disease and amputation.

"Diabetes and its related complications account for up to 10% of healthcare expenditure annually. Timely diagnosis and treatment of the disease are key to reducing this healthcare burden. However our findings emphasise that there is still a significant proportion of Irish adults with diabetes who remain undiagnosed, and targeted screening may help to reduce this," commented TILDA principal investigator, Prof Rose Anne Kenny.

The researchers added that lifestyle factors ‘are clearly associated with diabetes and pre-diabetes' and public health campaigns which promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle ‘may help reduce the future incidence of diabetes in Ireland and lessen complications in those with diagnosed diabetes'.

TILDA is led by Trinity College Dublin. For more information on it, click here


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