According to a study published online in the journal Diabetes, life expectancy significantly increased among individuals with type 1 diabetes during a 30-year, long-term prospective study.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that study participants diagnosed with type 1 diabetes between 1965 and 1980 lived around 15 years longer than participants diagnosed between 1950 and 1964. During the same period, the life expectancy of the general U.S. population also increased by less than one year.

Rachel Miller, M.S., statistician at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, explained:

“The estimated 15-year life expectancy improvement between the two groups persisted regardless of gender or age at diagnosis.”

The study findings are based on individuals who took part in the Pittsburgh Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications (EDC) study. Participants of the study were diagnosed with the disease between 1950 and 1980.

Trevor Orchard MD, senior author and professor of epidemiology, pediatrics and medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, said:

“Type 1 diabetes mortality rates are known to have decreased over time, but recent life expectancy estimates for those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the United States are lacking.

Therefore, we estimated life expectancy of the EDC study cohort and were impressed to see such an improvement – a tribute to how modern day treatment has dramatically changed the outlook for those with childhood onset of type 1 diabetes.”

The researchers found that the mortality rate for participants diagnosed with type 1 diabetes between 1950 and 1964 was 35.6% vs. 11.6% of those diagnosed between 1965-1980.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces little or no insulin to control blood glucose levels. The disease, which is generally treated with insulin replacement therapy, is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.

This disease is caused by an overactive immune system – the patient’s body attacks the insulin-producing Beta cells in the pancreas, mistaking them for harmful pathogens.

In type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing Beta cells (stained green) are destroyed by the patient’s immune system

Type 1 diabetes generally affects people at a much younger age than type 2 diabetes. The main cause of type 2 diabetes is obesity; this is not the case for type 1.

Other authors of the study include Aaron M. Secrest, Ph.D.; Ravi K. Sharma, Ph.D.; and Thomas J. Songer, Ph.D., all of the University of Pittsburgh. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Written by Grace Rattue