NEW YORK - In the midst of the diabetes epidemic, a glimmer of good news: Heart attacks, strokes, and other complications from the disease are plummeting.

Over the last two decades, the rates of heart attacks and strokes among diabetics fell by more than 60 percent, a new federal study shows. The research also confirms earlier reports of drastic declines in diabetes-related kidney failure and amputations.

The drop is mainly attributed to better screening, medicines, and care. The improvements came even as the number of U.S. adults with diabetes more than tripled in those 20 years.

"It is great news," John Buse, a University of North Carolina diabetes specialist, said of the drop in rates.

"The prognosis for folks with diabetes has improved dramatically over the last two decades, at least for those with good access to care," Buse said in an e-mail. He was not involved in the study.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research is reported in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

Diabetes is a disease in which sugar builds up in the blood. The most common form is tied to obesity, and the number of diabetics has ballooned with the rise in obesity. Today, roughly 1 in 10 U.S. adults has the disease, and it is the nation's seventh-leading cause of death, according to the CDC.

In the 1990s, studies showed that diabetics could keep their blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol under control.

For the new study, the CDC tallied complication rates from 1990 to 2010 for diabetics ages 20 or older.

During that time, the heart-attack rate fell 68 percent, from 141 to 45.5 per 10,000 diabetics, according to hospital records.

The decline was so great that, despite the growing ranks of diabetics, the actual number hospitalized with heart attacks dropped from more than 140,000 to about 136,000.

The stroke rate fell less dramatically - but still declined by more than half, finishing at 53 per 10,000.

The researchers saw declines in heart-attack and stroke rates for non-diabetics as well, but those improvements weren't nearly as big as they were for diabetics.

Amputation rates also fell by more than half. However, like strokes, the actual number increased over the two decades.