Diabetes-Related Problems Drop Over Last 2 Decades
People with diabetes often use a blood sugar monitoring device to help them test and control sugar levels.
Credit: Dreamstime.

Rates of certain serious, diabetes-related health problems have decreased substantially in the last two decades, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 1990 and 2010, the rate of heart attacks and death from high blood sugar declined by more than 60 percent among people with diabetes, the study found. And rates of stroke and lower-limb amputations (including amputations of the upper and lower legs, ankles, feet and toes) declined by about 50 percent. The rate of end-stage kidney failure, which must be treated with dialysis or kidney transplantation, fell by about 28 percent.

The findings "show that we have come a long way in preventing complications and improving quality of life for people with diabetes," study researcher Edward Gregg, a senior epidemiologist in CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation, said in a statement. [5 Diets That Fight Diseases]

A number of factors may have played a role in the decline, including better management of diabetes patients, control of risk factors such as high blood pressure and screening for complications, the researchers said. In addition, changes in patients' lifestyles, such as decreased smoking rates and reduced consumption of cholesterol and trans fat, may have contributed as well.

Although the findings bring good news, the total number of diabetes-related complications remains high. In fact, the total number of strokes, amputations and cases of end-stage kidney failure tied to diabetes has actually increased in recent years, because more people today have diabetes. Over the last 20 years, the number of people in the United States with diabetes has more than tripled, rising from 6.5 million to 20.7 million.

"[Complications from diabetes] are still high, and will stay with us unless we can make substantial progress in preventing Type 2 diabetes," Gregg said.

The study did not include rates of some diabetes complications, such as blindness and low blood sugar from diabetes treatment, because information about these conditions over the last two decades is lacking. Additionally, the researchers could not distinguish between complications from Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

The study is published in the April 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.