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Study: Teens Who Develop Diabetes Will Struggle to Control It

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The largest federally funded study on treating diabetes in teens, released Sunday, reveals teens who develop the disease will struggle to manage their blood sugar levels and will potentially suffer serious complications, reported the Associated Press.

The study monitored 699 obese or overweight teens recently diagnosed with diabetes for four years. About 6 percent of study participants were American Indian, a population that has experienced sharp increases in obesity in recent years, reported The New York Times. All teens were given the drug metformin, a pill to lower blood sugar. They then followed one of three treatments to try to maintain that control: metformin alone, metformin in addition to diet and exercise counseling, or metformin in combination with a second drug, Avandia.

After almost four years, half in the strictly metformin group failed to control their blood sugar. The two drugs and lifestyle groups didn't fare much better.

While a combination drug therapy including Avandia slightly increased their ability to manage diabetes, Philip Zeitler, one of the study's leaders and the section head of endocrinology at the University of Colorado's School of Medicine, said doctors should not recommend it, because Avandia has been linked to higher risk of heart attacks in adults. These risks were not known at the start of the study.

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Overall, one in five teens in the study faced serious complication such as very high blood sugar, typically warranting a hospital visit. When blood sugar is not regulated, it significantly raises the risk of suffering vision loss, nerve damage, kidney failure, limb amputation, and even heart attacks and strokes.

The takeaway from the study, authors noted, is the same thing stressed in Native communities: prevention.

The study results, published online by the New England Journal of Medicine, point to the rising rates of "diabesity," Type 2 diabetes brought on by obesity, as the culprit.

The "discouraging" results underscore the need to foster "a healthier 'eat less, move more'" culture to reduce the risk of obesity that contributes to diabetes, Dr. David Allen, a professor of pediatric endocrinology the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, wrote in an accompanying editorial.