Type 2 diabetes can have serious health implications that can affect life expectancy. However, with management, many people with diabetes can live long lives.

When a person gets a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, they may wonder how it will affect the length of their life.

The impact on life expectancy depends on various factors, such as how soon a person receives a diagnosis and treatment, and how well they and their healthcare team manage the condition.

Other influential factors include symptom severity and progression, the appearance of complications, and the body’s response to treatment.

This article will examine the factors that influence life expectancy with type 2 diabetes and how to maximize it.

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Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. It develops when the body can no longer respond to insulin correctly. Eventually, the body does not produce enough insulin to regulate a person’s blood sugar levels.

Diabetes symptoms include:

  • increased thirst
  • increased urination
  • increased hunger
  • fatigue
  • poor wound healing
  • numbness or tingling in hands or feet
  • unexplained weight loss

Type 2 diabetes is a complex and chronic illness that requires continuous medical care.

People living with this condition tend to have a shorter life expectancy than those not living with the condition. A 2020 study also found people living with type 2 diabetes have a longer life expectancy than those with type 1 diabetes.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), several diabetes-related health problems can occur, reducing a person’s life expectancy and quality of life. These include:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • kidney disease
  • nerve damage
  • nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • sleep apnea
  • cancer
  • dementia

However, certain factors can help a person improve their life expectancy.

For example, research from 2022 found that people with type 2 diabetes and a lower body mass index (BMI) saw approximately 2.0–3.9 additional years of life.

The study also shows that lowering blood pressures in people with type 2 diabetes may extend a person’s life by an average of 1.1–1.9 years. Additionally, there is an association between lower cholesterol levels and about 0.5–0.9 more years.

Finally, the study shows that reducing hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) from 9.9% to 7.7% may help a person with type 2 diabetes live an extra 3.4 years. Hemoglobin is the protein found in red blood cells. When blood sugar levels rise, glucose attaches to the hemoglobin and converts it to hemoglobin A1C.

This shows that leading a healthy lifestyle and managing one’s blood sugar can go a long way toward improving one’s health while living with type 2 diabetes.

The best way to improve life expectancy for type 2 diabetes is to manage the condition with both medical and lifestyle interventions.

Treatment of type 2 diabetes includes tracking a person’s blood sugar levels, which helps them identify peaks and address the cause. Blood glucose monitoring kits are available for purchase online.

People with type 2 diabetes may also need medications to prevent their blood sugar levels from getting too high. This can be insulin injections or medications such as metformin (Fortamet, Glumetza).

There are also experimental drugs that may help in the management of type 2 diabetes. Research is still ongoing and not all of the drugs are available for public use yet.

The effects of diabetes on the blood vessels and nerves that control the heart make it more likely that someone with diabetes will have other health conditions that raise the risk of heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and high cholesterol.

For people with type 2 diabetes who also have atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, 2018 guidelines recommend that doctors prescribe medications for these conditions as part of an overall diabetes treatment plan.

A 2016 meta-analysis that included data from over 13,000 people found that those who engaged in diabetes self-management education appeared to have longer life expectancies than those who did not.

Additional strategies for maintaining optimal health while living with diabetes include:

  • Eating a healthy diet: A healthy diet involves avoiding the consumption of simple sugars, such as juice or candy, eating complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and beans, and limiting alcohol intake.
  • Getting exercise: A person should get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity each week.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: In people with obesity, weight loss can help reduce the impact of diabetes. Research shows it can even lead to remission in some cases.
  • Preventing infections: What would be a relatively minor infection in a person without diabetes can become life threatening in a person with diabetes. If a person notices a wound is taking too long to heal, they should promptly have a doctor examine it to avoid it becoming a skin ulcer. A skin ulcer can become infected, and if it reaches the blood, it may cause sepsis.
  • Reducing stress: Stress stimulates the release of hormones that can raise blood sugar and interfere with insulin regulation. Yoga, meditation, and speaking with a mental health professional or counselor can help a person manage their stress.
  • Quitting smoking: Smoking causes the blood vessels to constrict and can actually lead to developing type 2 diabetes. It also makes a person living with diabetes more susceptible to infections in their lower extremities.

Learn more about type 2 diabetes treatments.

The following are answers to common questions about type 2 diabetes.

Who is at risk for developing type 2 diabetes?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. These include obesity, smoking, and stress.

There may also be a genetic factor to diabetes, which means that people with family members living with the condition may be more likely to develop it. It is also more common in people over the age of 45.

However, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes among African Americans and Hispanics is higher than in Asians and people who are white. This may be due to a combination of biological and environmental factors and health inequities that may affect historically marginalized groups.

How do people die from type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes can make it more likely for a person to develop other health conditions, such as kidney and heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among people with diabetes.

Can type 2 diabetes cause sudden death?

Sudden cardiac death or death from a stroke can be a complication of type 2 diabetes. These can result from the ineffective management of a person’s diabetes.

What is the end stage of diabetes?

After many years with diabetes, especially untreated diabetes, a person can develop end stage renal disease or heart disease. Significantly elevated blood sugar levels can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis in people with type 1 diabetes or hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome (HHS) in people with type 2 diabetes.

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Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to life threatening complications. The younger a person who receives a type 2 diabetes diagnosis is, the higher the risk that diabetes-linked complications will shorten their lifespan.

However, by adopting effective management strategies, there is a good chance that a person living with type 2 diabetes may live as long as a person without the condition.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) provides information on new medications and screening techniques that continue to improve diagnostics and treatment of type 2 diabetes. A move toward more personalized strategies is also underway. These can all contribute to a better outlook for people with diabetes.

It can also be helpful to connect with others who understand what living with type 2 diabetes is like. Bezzy T2D is a free app that can help a person connect with others living with the condition.

A person living with type 2 diabetes who maintains an active lifestyle, eats a healthy diet, refrains from smoking, and receives prompt treatment for complications, such as infections or cardiovascular disease has a higher likelihood of a better outlook.