Blood Sugar-Related Hospital Visits More Frequent for Younger Adults with Diabetes

University of Minnesota Medical School researchers, together with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), have found that younger adults in Minnesota with diabetes are more likely to have high blood sugar levels than older adults.

Researchers found that younger adults, those 18 to 44 years old, were more likely to land in the hospital due to out-of-control blood sugar levels. They also found that hospitalizations due to out-of-control blood sugars occurred three to five times more frequently among young adults with diabetes than older adults living with diabetes.

Of more than 300,000 adult Minnesotans who have received a diabetes diagnosis, 16% are younger than 45 years old, however, state diabetes surveillance data primarily describe older adults. For this study, researchers examined Minnesota data sets to determine how diabetes affected those younger adults (those 18-44 years old) and if their hospitalization patterns differ from older adults (ages 45–74 years old) with diabetes.

“Diabetes is more difficult to control in young people, and more likely to result in hospitalizations and other problems. ” said, Kevin Peterson, MD, MPH, Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School and co-author on the study published in Preventing Chronic Disease, a medical journal from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

On average, 18 to 44-year-olds were found more likely to miss their blood sugar targets compared to older adults. Only about four out of 10 young adults met their targets for blood sugar control, compared to nearly eight of 10 older adults meeting their targets.

Peterson and the research team found several differences that might contribute to higher blood glucose levels for young adults including 18 to 44-year-olds with diabetes were slightly less likely to report having their blood sugar levels checked in the last year and to have a primary care provider who can help to manage diabetes compared to adults, and younger adults had higher rates of depression and hospitalization for mental health conditions.

“These findings show we need to tailor our care and outreach to address the needs of younger adults with diabetes,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm, in a press release. “These people have long lives ahead of them and it is important to ensure that diabetes is managed well so they can live those years in good health.”

The study looked at hospitalization as only one of several potential negative outcomes for out-of-control blood sugars. Long-term exposure to high blood sugar can cause kidney, eye and nervous system damage. Among younger adults, high blood sugar can contribute to infertility and, in women, uncontrolled blood sugar can be associated with poor pregnancy outcomes like birth defects, high birthweights, and stillbirth.

The research used 2013-2015 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System telephone survey, data collected by Minnesota Community Measurement for statewide quality reporting, and Minnesota hospital discharge data from the Minnesota Hospital Association and other neighboring states.