ABOUT THE JOINT ASIA DIABETES EVALUATION
Compared to some of our Asian neighbours, Singapore has the highest proportion of Type 2 diabetes patients below the age of 40.
This is according to the Joint Asia Diabetes Evaluation (Jade), an ongoing study involving nine Asian places so far.
The ranking is based on percentage, as the numbers surveyed varied from country to country.
Jade, which is still recruiting people for the study, was initiated and coordinated by the Asia Diabetes Foundation based in Hong Kong.
For this study, 385 Singaporean patients were enrolled, 319 of them from Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) referral outpatient diabetes centre.
Of the SGH patients surveyed, three in 10 are young-onset patients, and the average at diagnosis is 30.1 years old.
"It's not quite something you think about when you look at a young adult, that they may have diabetes," said Dr Goh Su-Yen, who heads SGH's endocrinology department.
Young-onset patients were also found to have a higher prevalence of kidney disease and nerve damage as compared to those aged 40 and above.
While this relationship disappears upon adjustment for disease duration, Dr Goh said it does not mean being diagnosed young is no big deal.
"It does mean that if you get diagnosed at a younger age, remember you are going to be living with diabetes for a much longer time as compared to somebody who gets diagnosed at age 50," she said.
It is hard to pinpoint a specific reason for young-onset Type 2 diabetes, but Dr Goh narrowed it to a few possibilities.
On the patient's end, it could be that health and mortality are not the priority for those in their 30s, who may be busy caring for their children or aged parents.
It is also possible that young adults do not realise the implications of a chronic disease like diabetes, and the complications that could possibly develop, the senior consultant at SGH pointed out.
On the doctor's end, there could also be what Dr Goh called "treatment inertia" for younger patients.
Doctors may be reluctant to put a young patient on medication, or they may try to delay it for six months to a year, considering how the patient would have to be on it for many years.
It does mean that if you get diagnosed at a younger age, remember you are going to be living with diabetes for a much longer time as compared to somebody who gets diagnosed at age 50.
- Dr Goh Su-Yen