In 2005, some 26,300 deaths of people in England aged 20-79 were attributable to diabetes, or about 11.6% of the total for this age group, and this percentage is set to rise to 12.2% by 2010 if current trends continue, according to new research from Diabetes UK.

Adults aged under 80 with diabetes are around twice as likely to die as those without the condition and women with diabetes have a greater increased risk of death compared to their male counterparts, says the charity, which describes the new figures as “truly alarming.”

They also confirm that the condition is one of the biggest health challenges facing the UK today, said Diabetes UK’s chief executive, Douglas Smallwood. “There are currently 2.3 million people diagnosed with diabetes and more than half a million people are unaware they have the condition,” he noted, adding that: “good self-management, awareness and improved access to specialist diabetes care services are crucial if we are to curb this growing health crisis and see a reduction in the number of people dying from diabetes and complications attributed to the condition.”

Around 80% of people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease (CVD) - high blood glucose levels damage blood vessels which can result in a stroke or heart attack. Diabetes is also the main cause of end-stage renal failure (ESRF) - an irreversible decline in kidney function - while, more rarely, a hypoglycaemic attack, where the level of glucose in the blood drops, can also result in death, as can hyperglycaemia - high blood glucose levels which, left untreated, can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

The charity’s new research also reveals that the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in England with the highest percentages of deaths attributable to diabetes also have a high-than-average population aged over 40, with large numbers in this age group of people of Black and Asian origin. They also have higher levels of deprivation compared with those PCTs with the lowest proportion of diabetes-linked deaths.

In 2005, the table of English PCTs with the highest percentages of diabetes-attributable deaths in the 20-79 age group was led by Newham in East London, at just over 17%. It is followed, in descending order, by: Brent Teaching, Tower Hamlets, Leicester City, Ealing, City and Hackney Teaching, Lambeth, Waltham Forest and Lewisham.

The PCT with the lowest percentage of diabetes-associated deaths in this age group was Buckinghamshire at 9.25%, followed by: South Gloucestershire, Berkshire West, Wiltshire, Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Bath and North East Somerset, Richmond and Twickenham and North Yorkshire and York.