The world’s largest study of diabetes peer support, where one person with diabetes helps guide others, has shown it can significantly lower blood pressure in patients with Type 2 diabetes and potentially reduce their risk of serious complications.
Diabetes study finds ‘people power’ can lower blood pressure
The study of 1,299 people, led by Professor David Simmons, from Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) and the University of Western Sydney School of Medicine, and Dr Jonathan Graffy, from the University of Cambridge, has just been published in the international medical journal, PLOS One.
Professor Simmons and his colleagues found patients participating in group-based diabetes support were successful in lowering their systolic blood pressure number, which is pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts, by 2-3mm Hg (millimetres of mercury) after eight to 12 months.
Professor Simmons conducted the trial in the UK with patients from Addenbrooke’s Hospital, part of CUH. He said: “If a patient can reduce their blood pressure by just a few points over the long-term, it could be enough to significantly improve their health and reduce their risk of heart attack by two to four percent and stroke by four to six percent.”
In the randomised cluster controlled trial, 652 people participated in ‘group peer support’, which was delivered by well-trained and clinically supported peer support facilitators (PSF).
PSFs were drawn from the same local community as the participants in the trial. They were encouraged to be non-directive and use listening skills to support peers in their efforts to overcome day-to-day ‘barriers’ to managing their diabetes and its effects on everyday life.
Professor Simmons added: “It was important the peer facilitators remained socially and emotionally connected to their peers. Rather than telling people what to do the facilitators worked with people to find ways to fit their diabetes into day-to-day living.”
Dr Graffy emphasised the importance of linking peer support programmes to local health services. He said: “One of the reasons people agreed to join the support groups is that they were invited by their local general practices. Those who agreed to facilitate the groups were given training by the local diabetes service and ongoing mentorship from a specialist diabetes nurse. This helped sustain their interest in the role.”
Professor Simmons said more research is needed to explain how participating in the peer-support group lowered blood pressure: “Those in the peer-support groups didn’t have better medication compliance or do more physical activity compared to others in the trial – factors which may have explained the lowered blood pressure. The activity of social support itself may have had a direct impact on blood pressure.”
Professor Simmons said the results could lay the foundation for a new approach to Type 2 diabetes healthcare. He said: “Type 2 diabetes is a complex and costly global health crisis. Group-based peer support could help prevent health complications, reduce hospitalisations, save lives and limit the burden on health budgets.
“We are looking at the hospitalisation costs currently, but the data has been persuasive enough for Diabetes UK to set up a programme based upon our work, piloting across parts of the East of England and the Midlands.”
Deirdre Kehoe of Diabetes UK’s Type 2 Together programme welcomed the study results. She said: “We are very excited to be able to build upon our existing peer support work to offer a new approach to those who want to know more about managing their diabetes. Early feedback from the programme is positive and we look forward to seeing its overall impact on participants’ lives.”
Professor Simmons is pleased with the response to the study. He said: “To have such a rapid take-up of trial findings is almost unheard of.”
The study was conducted from Cambridge University Hospitals in collaboration with colleagues from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge.
To find out more about the Diabetes UK’s Type 2 Together programme visit http://www.diabetes.org.uk//Type-2-Together
About Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH)
Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) is one of the largest and best known hospitals in the country. As well as delivering care through Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie, it is also:
•a leading national centre for specialist treatment for rare or complex conditions
•a government-designated biomedical research centre
•one of only five academic health science centres in the UK
•a university teaching hospital with a worldwide reputation
•a partner in the development of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus
CUH’s vision is to be one of the best academic healthcare organisations in the world.
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University of Western Sydney
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Cambridge University Hospitals is one of the largest and best known trusts in the country. As the local hospital for our community we deliver care through Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie hospitals.