After being diagnosed, most people with diabetes want to know how the condition will affect the length and quality of their life. Each individual varies, but maintaining healthy blood sugar levels often has the largest influence on life expectancy.
Relatively few studies have examined the link between diabetes and life expectancy, especially on a large scale. As a result, doctors aren't entirely sure how diabetes relates to how long people with the condition will live. This article will explore more.
- While some estimates exist, there is no way to know exactly how diabetes will affect life expectancy.
- Type 2 diabetes is thought to have less of an effect on life expectancy than type 1 because people typically develop the condition much later in life.
- Generally, anything that helps maintain or contribute to healthy blood sugar levels can reduce the toll diabetes takes.
Life expectancy with type 2 diabetes
How diabetes affects life expectancy may be based on a number of health and treatment factors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average life expectancy in 2014 for American men was 76.4 years and women 81.2 years.
A 2012 Canadian study found that women aged 55 years and over with diabetes lost on average 6 years of life while men lost 5 years.
Also, a 2015 study concluded that the risk of death associated with type 2 diabetes could be reduced due to:
- better awareness
Though their value is debated, life expectancy tables exist to estimate outcomes and the impact of intervention methods, such as lifestyle changes and medications.
Recent advancements in diabetes screening and treatment may mean that life expectancy increases.
How diabetes affects life expectancy
The overall impact of diabetes on an individual is determined by a wide range of health and treatment factors. Anything that influences the likelihood of developing diabetes, or worsening the condition, also increases the chances of dying from the condition.
This means anything that impacts blood sugars or the ability of the liver to control them can affect life expectancy.
Common risk factors that can decrease life expectancy in people with diabetes include:
- liver disease
- kidney disease
- heart disease and history of stroke
- being overweight or obese
- having excess belly or abdominal fat
- poor diet
- high consumption of refined sugars and fats
- high cholesterol
- inactivity and sedentary lifestyle
- lack of sleep
- high blood pressure
- ulcer or gastrointestinal conditions
The longer a person has the condition, the more likely it is to reduce life expectancy.
While increases in life expectancy have been reported for adults with type 2 diabetes, youths with the condition have consistently shown high mortality rates.
Factors that increase the risk
The heart may have to work harder when blood sugars are elevated.
Elevated blood sugars put stress on the body and can cause damage to the nerves and small blood vessels, decreasing circulation. This means:
- The heart has to work harder to deliver blood to the body's tissues; especially those further away from itself, such as the feet and hands.
- The increased workload plus damage to the heart's own blood vessels causes the organ to weaken and eventually fail.
- A lack of blood to the body's other organs and tissues starves them of oxygen and nutrition, which can lead to necrosis or tissue death.
The American Heart Association estimate that adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to experience fatal heart disease than those without the disease. And some 68 percent of people with diabetes who are 65 or over die from heart disease, as well as 16 percent from stroke.
Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in Americans in 2014, with 24 out of every 100,000 deaths attributed to the condition. According to the American Diabetes Association, the risk of death is 50 percent higher for adults with diabetes than it is for those without the condition.
Increasing life expectancy
Recommendations for increasing life expectancy in people with diabetes are similar to management and prevention tips. The most effective way to decrease the influence that diabetes has on life expectancy is by maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
Ways to increase life expectancy in those with type 2 diabetes include:
- Eating healthfully - reduce consumption of foods containing simple sugars, such as juices and candies that can cause blood sugar spikes. Focus on eating more complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and legumes.
- Exercising - as little as 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week can help stabilize blood sugars over time.
- Losing weight - a total body weight loss of 5-10 percent has been shown to reduce the impact of diabetes.
- Monitoring and treating blood sugar levels - tracking blood sugars helps identify swings so highs or lows can be addressed as they occur. Management medications such as metformin also help stabilize blood sugars but only if taken as prescribed.
- Reducing stress - stress stimulates the release of hormones that can raise blood sugars and interfere with insulin regulation. Yoga, meditation, and speaking to a counselor or physiologist can help combat stress.
- Treating other conditions - many health conditions can increase the impact of diabetes, such as kidney and heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
A 2017 study found that diabetes self-management plans helped reduce the risk of mortality in people with type 2 diabetes.
In fact, researchers found that people with type 2 diabetes who were taking metformin had a slightly increased life expectancy compared to those without diabetes.
Avoiding spikes and dips in blood sugars decreases the amount of stress placed on the body, in particular the liver, kidneys, and heart.