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Diabetes and Depression Associated with Higher Risk for Major Complications

Science Update

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People with type 2 diabetes and coexisting major depression are more likely to experience life-threatening diabetes-related complications, according to a recent NIMH-funded study published in the February 2010 issue of Diabetes Care.


Research has shown that depression is commonly associated with diabetes. People who have both diabetes and depression tend to have more severe symptoms of both diseases, higher rates of work disability and use more medical services than those who only have diabetes alone.

Elizabeth Lin M.D., MPH, Michael Von Korff, Sc.D., and colleagues from Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, WA, and Wayne Katon M.D., and colleagues from the University of Washington, examined the association between type 2 diabetes and depression among 4,623 patients enrolled in Group Health, a health plan serving residents of Washington state. They first interviewed the participants between 2000 and 2002, and then conducted follow-up interviews between 2005 and 2007. They tracked the participants' rates of microvascular complications (e.g., blindness, end-stage kidney disease, amputations and kidney failure deaths) and macrovascular complications (e.g., heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular procedures and deaths).

Results of the Study

At the follow-up interview, 14 percent of the participants had developed a clinically advanced microvascular complication, and 24 percent had developed a severe macrovascular complication. Over the five-year follow-up period, those with major depression had a 36 percent higher risk of developing microvascular complications and a 25 percent higher risk of developing macrovascular complications compared with patients without major depression.


Those with type 2 diabetes and coexisting major depression are more likely to experience life-threatening complications than those without coexisting major depression. To reduce the risk of diabetes complications, better interventions are needed that not only treat the diabetes but address any accompanying depression as well.

What's Next

More research is needed to identify the underlying mechanisms for the association between depression and diabetes complications, and to develop interventions that treat both diabetes and accompanying major depression. In addition, better screening is needed to help identify those patients with diabetes who are at higher risk for developing major depression and other life-threatening complications.

More information about diabetes is available from the National Diabetes Education Program .


Lin EHB, Rutter CM, Katon W, Heckbert SR, Ciechanowski P, Oliver MM, Ludman EJ, Young BA, Williams LH, McCulloch DK, Von Korff M. Depression and advanced complications of diabetes . Diabetes Care. 2010 Feb. 33(2): 264-269.