Diabetes prevalence increases globally with severe consequences for afflicted individuals and societies. Data on diabetes incidence and diabetes related mortality on a population level are, however, scarce. As an alternative to dedicated studies it has been suggested to use pharmacoepidemiological databases that are readily available, at least in the Nordic countries.
For all 470,000 inhabitants in Funen County, Denmark, in the period 1992–2003, data on gender, date of birth, death and migration to and from the county, and any filled prescriptions of an anti-diabetic medication was obtained from the Odense Pharmaco-Epidemiological Database.
Prevalence odds for use of an anti-diabetic medication rose annually 3.5% (95% confidence interval: 3.1%, 3.9%) for females, 4.5% (4.0%, 4.9%) for males. Corresponding incidence rates annually rose 4.8% (3.8%, 5.8%) for females, 4.5% (3.5%, 5.4%) for males. Mortality rates among treated annually declined 2.8% (1.4%, 4.1%) among females, 2.2% (0.9%, 3.5%) among males. The disequilibrium in absolute numbers between incidence and mortality among treated was the main driver for the increasing prevalence, while concurrent trends in incidence and diabetes related mortality only marginally affected prevalence trends. Trend estimates were insensitive to varying the length of the run-in period used for determining treatment status, except when using the naive and methodologically flawed run-in period of variable length.
While pharmacoepidemiological databases provide a useful tool for monitoring pharmacologically treated diabetes, a dedicated diabetes database covering all prevalents and incidents is needed for a more detailed analysis of underlying causes and trends.