A report published this week in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation highlights the significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease that people face if they develop Type 2 diabetes (also known as diabetes mellitus) before the age of 40. Based on a large set of data — the health records of over 300,000 patients in Sweden — researchers found that having Type 2 diabetes in early to middle adulthood exposed people to increased risk of premature death, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or atrial fibrillation. Women under 40 were at particular risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
“Our study shows the differences in excess diabetes risk are tied to how old the person is when they are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes,” said Naveed Sattar, the lead author of the study, in a news release. Essentially, the younger you are when you develop Type 2 diabetes, the higher your risk for cardiovascular disease and premature death; by age 80, though, the risks are comparable with patients who do not have diabetes.
The new research suggests that public health experts need to focus their time and resources on Type 2 diabetes prevention and treatment while patients are still young; currently the rate of Type 2 diabetes in teens and young adults is as high as it’s ever been. Since women with Type 2 diabetes are especially at risk for cardiovascular disease, they too should be the focus of diabetes outreach and support. Cardiovascular disease is already a key health concern for women, as it is the leading cause of death among American women, killing approximately the same proportion of Latinas as cancer does every year.
The AHA report covered long-term outcomes of Type 2 diabetes, but it’s worth noting that women of childbearing age who become pregnant and have Type 2 diabetes face an increased risk of preeclampsia, miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth complications that require a C-section. The disease also makes it more difficult to become pregnant in the first place.
At the demographic level, differences in Type 2 diabetes risks are correlated with access to healthcare, insurance, and cultural and language barriers. More than half of Latinos in the U.S. will have diabetes in their lifetime, compared to what is still a whopping 40 percent of whites. Furthermore, upon developing Type 2 diabetes, there’s a 50 percent higher chance that a Latinx person will die from the disease than a white person.