A call for more solutions to address the growing diabetes burden

With 3.4 million Canadians living with the disease, diabetes is taking a toll on Canadians and the country’s health system.

In addition to the human toll, there’s a significant economic impact. The disease cost the Canadian health system $12.2 billion in 2010, a figure expected to rise to $16.9 billion by 2020. As well, Irene Higgins-Bowser, a diabetes educator in Halifax, told those in attendance at the 2017 Halifax Benefits Summit that people with the disease incur medical costs that are three times higher than those faced by non-diabetics. “Diabetes is a very costly disease.”

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For many diabetics, controlling their glucose level is difficult. “Half of Canadian patients with type 2 diabetes are not achieving target glycemic control,” said Higgins-Bowser. The absence of such control, she noted, presents the very real possibility of both chronic and acute complications. They include cardiovascular disease; foot problems, which are the most common cause of lower-limb amputation; hypoglycemia, which can result in seizure, coma and even death; and diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious medical emergency that can lead to death without rapid intervention.

Living with diabetes can also be psychologically debilitating, said Higgins-Bowser. Forty-five per cent of people with the disease report having emotional distress as a result. But there are emerging solutions that may be helpful. Cognitive behavioural interventions, for example, help patients solve problems and set attainable goals, said Higgins-Bowser.

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Higgins-Bowser noted she’d also like to see new and improved medications on the market. “We need more treatment options,” she said. Specifically, there’s a need for faster mealtime insulin to more closely mimic the physiological insulin profile, which would allow for more accurate administration based on the patient’s needs.

Read more articles from the 2017 Halifax Benefits Summit