Peer support improves diabetes self management

Peer support can improve the health condition of people with diabetes, according to a study published in the January 2012 issue of Health Affairs.

Researchers from the United States, India, Thailand and Cameroon identified four key functions of effective peer support: daily management, social and emotional support, linkage to clinical care, and ongoing availability of support.

Using these key functions, they developed peer support interventions for adults with diabetes and implemented them in Cameroon, Thailand, South Africa and Uganda. The researchers defined “peers” as nonprofessionals who have diabetes or are familiar with its management.

The researchers found improvements in symptom management, diet, blood pressure, body mass index and blood sugar levels for many of the patients in the intervention programs.

“For policy makers, the broader message is that by emphasizing the four key peer support functions, diabetes management programs can be successfully introduced across varied cultural settings and within diverse health systems,” wrote the researchers.

Self management is key

Successful self management of diabetes is key to reducing complications from the disease. Complications include heart disease, stroke, hypertension, blindness and eye problems, kidney disease, nervous system disease, lower-limb amputations, dental disease, and pregnancy difficulties.

Studies show that improved blood glucose control benefits people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Every percentage point drop in A1C blood test results can reduce the risk of eye, kidney and nerve diseases by 40 percent, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC). A1C is a type of glucose attached to hemoglobin.

Intensive insulin therapy can help people with type 1 diabetes reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

Blood pressure control reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease among people with diabetes by 33 to 50 percent and the risk of eye, kidney and nerve diseases by about 33 percent, according to the NDIC.

Specifically, people with diabetes can reduce their risk of major cardiovascular events by 50 percent if they reduce their diastolic blood pressure from 90 mmHg to 80 mmHg.

Improved control of LDL cholesterol levels can reduce cardiovascular complications by 20 to 50 percent.

Nearly 26 million people in the US live with diabetes. An estimated 7 million of those cases are undiagnosed. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, nontraumatic lower-limb amputations and new cases of blindness among adults in the US. It's also a major cause of heart disease and stroke.

Sources: Health Affairs, National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse

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