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Broder's death shines light on diabetes

Posted Mar 10 2011 9:28am
Washington Post Columnist David Broder was considered one of a kind when it comes to covering national politics but he was one in 10.9 million when it comes to the number of Americans 65 and older who have diabetes.

The Pulitzer Prize winner's death Wednesday, March 9, 2011 from "complications from diabetes" shows that no one is immune from diabetes or the collateral damage to the body it causes.

And it's this collateral damage that usually is the cause when someone dies from "complications from diabetes." But, what does that all-encompassing statement truly mean?

"There are so many ways diabetes can lead to death it's hard to know what happened to David Broder, or anyone else, unless a more specific cause is named," says UAB endocrinologist Fernado Ovalle, M.D. "And, it is not uncommon for someone to suffer from more than one deadly complication of diabetes."

Ovalle said some of the most common complications directly attributed to diabetes that can lead to death include
  • diabetic ketoacidosis - when the body cannot use sugar as fuel and uses fat instead. The byproducts of the fat, ketones, are poisonous
  • hyperglycemic hyperosmolar non-ketotic state - when they body tries to rid itself of excess sugar through urine, causing frequent urination, that can result in dehydration, seizures, coma and death
  • hypoglycemia - when blood glucose levels are too low and lead to seizures, coma and death
  • sepsis- severe infection from a lower extremity ulcer
  • kidney failure
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • peripheral vascular disease - leading to gangrene of lower extremities
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases , 68 percent of death certificates of people with diabetes over age 65 listed heart disease as the primary cause. Stroke was listed on 16 percent of death certificates.

No matter what "complications from diabetes" might encompass for any individual, there are ways to prevent or mitigate complications, Ovalle says. These include
  • Keep blood glucose well controlled, as close to normal as possible
  • Keep blood pressure well controlled, as close to normal as possible
  • Keep blood lipids, especially LDL cholesterol, well controlled with the use of statin drugs
  • Have regular screenings for early complications with the eyes, kidneys, nerves, feet, etc., so they can be addressed before becoming serious
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