SINGAPORE — When it comes to managing Type 2 diabetes, younger patients here, or those below the age of 40, appear to be having a harder time keeping their conditions in check than their older counterparts, a study has found.
Part of an ongoing regional study by the Asia Diabetes Foundation, the local study involved more than 300 diabetic patients here and was conducted at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
The findings revealed that younger patients fared worse than older patients in two of three key indicators doctors use to determine a patient’s condition — blood sugar level and cholesterol level. For example, only 10 per cent of the younger patients maintained their blood sugar level at an acceptable level, compared with 30 per cent of the older patients.
And only 1 per cent of younger patients met the acceptable level for all three indicators, compared with 4 per cent of older patients. The third indicator is blood pressure.
The study also revealed that younger patients tend to have higher levels of bad cholesterol and are at a higher risk of developing kidney disease and nerve damage.
The study started in 2012 and is part of the Joint Asia Diabetes Evaluation Program that is being conducted in eight other Asian countries including South Korea and Taiwan. The study is partially sponsored by pharmaceutical company MSD.
Doctors who took part in the study said the findings were of concern. “(The younger patients) are going to be living with diabetes for a much longer time as compared with someone who is diagnosed at age 50 or 60, so it isn’t something we can ignore ... and address this issue later on in life,” said Dr Goh Su-Yen, who heads SGH’s endocrinology department and is part of the research team.
The study did not go into the reasons for such a trend, but Dr Goh said this could be looked at next. Possible factors that lower a patient’s control over his condition include a lack of discipline in committing to a recommended lifestyle, such as monitoring one’s diet and exercising and taking medication regularly, said Dr Goh.
Physicians also play a role in helping patients control their condition. Dr Goh said some doctors resist starting younger patients on medication at an earlier stage, in the hope that they could manage their condition through lifestyle adjustments. However, this may backfire if the patient is unable to commit to a healthy lifestyle and requires the aid of medication to keep his condition in check.
Dr Ben Ng, an endocrinologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Medical Centre, said that in general, younger patients find it hard to adhere to doctor’s orders. “It is very hard to tell someone who is young that from now till the end of time, he is going to be on medication. It is a huge blow to such patients and the first thing they say is ‘I’m feeling well’,” he said.