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Diabetes

Life expectancy of diabetes

03/24/2003

Question:

What is the life expectancy of diabetes?

Answer:

You are asking an important question which looks simple but I am afraid the answer is quite complicated. To answer this question, we need to be clear on the differences among the types of diabetes and what the factors are that can shorten life expectancy in these different types.

Type 1 diabetes most often appears in young people, childhood to age 25, but can occur at older ages. Type 1 is the kind which results primarily from destruction of the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells in which people absolutely depend on insulin for survival.

Type 2 diabetes historically developed in adults in their 30`s or older but more recently we are seeing young people developing type 2 diabetes in childhood and teen years. Type 2 is the kind where there are abnormalities both in how the different tissues in the body respond to insulin (insulin resistance) and in how well the beta cells can compensate for that.

Before insulin was discovered, people with type 1 diabetes would frequently die very early after diagnosis due to a medical emergency called diabetic ketoacidosis. Now it is very uncommon for ketoacidosis to result in death. The major conditions that shorten peoples` lives with diabetes now are heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and infection. Rates of loss of life due to these causes are greater in people with diabetes than in those without diabetes. However, careful control of blood sugar, blood pressure and blood fats (cholesterol, triglycerides) can reduce the likelihood of these events.

Many of these improvements have occurred only recently and studies are now in progress to see how they affect lifespan. In summary, life expectancy has been shorter in people with diabetes than in those without diabetes. The exact extent depends on the type of diabetes, the age at which it is found and most likely on the extent to which the disease process is controlled. The scene is quite hopeful now for people with diabetes and is expected to improve over the next several years. 

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Response by:

Robert M Cohen, MD Robert M Cohen, MD
Professor of Clinical Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati