Caring Currents

Diabetes Studies: Good News? Bad News? Who Knows?

Last updated:

May 02, 2008

Your parents with type 2 diabetes should take drug ABC to control their blood sugar. No -- wait -- your parents should stop taking these pills because a new study showed they may lead to heart attack. Or kidney problems. Or liver trouble.

Or, as we learned last week, an increased risk for broken bones. In case you didn't catch this latest one: Researchers reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine that a widely prescribed class of diabetes meds called thiazolidinediones (commonly known as TZDs) accounted for a two to three times greater risk of hip and wrist fractures. The agents studied -- piogliazone (brand name: Actos) and rosiglitazone (Avandia) have previously been linked to reduced bone formation and accelerated bone loss. And they've also been linked to an increased risk of heart failure

So what, exactly, are folks with diabetes and their caregivers supposed to do with this kind of information?  If you're like most people, you probably find these headlines confusing at best, or worse, worrisome. Here's what they're not: Helpful.

Don't get me wrong. Finding out that a drug can hurt or even kill your parent is, of course, important information. But is that what these one-off studies usually tell us? Nope.

So we turned to the experts and asked them to weigh in on the news of the week. Here's the real take-away message, short and sweet: Talk with your parents' doctor.

"I can't tell you how many people hear about a study on the news and simply tell their parents to stop taking their pills because they think they're going to have a heart attack, break a bone, or whatever," says endocrinologist and expert  Karen Earle. "My number one advice is: Never have your parent quit his meds without first discussing the pros and cons with his doctor."

Christoph Meier, an author on the fracture risk research, seconds that opinion. In an email exchange with the investigator, Meier notes that all oral antidiabetic agents have potentially negative effects. TZDs are relatively new and their downsides are just emerging, he adds. Further study will hopefully determine whether, say, elderly people with osteoporosis should avoid this class of drugs, or add calcium and Vitamin D to prevent their bones from getting weaker, if they're on them.

So, as a caregiver, how do you deal with the latest diabetes research? Do you scan the headlines and make decisions based on what you read or hear? Do you ignore the latest findings and put all your stock in your parents' health team's advice? Do you go beyond the headlines and independently investigate by scouring the Net for more in-depth information?

Maybe with some perspective from the frontlines, everyone can take a deep breath before reading the next potentially scary story on diabetes.

Image by Flickr user aymlis used under the Creative Commons attribution license.