Diabetes is one of those chronic health challenges that can be managed effectively with lifestyle adjustments and medications. However, one may wonder if they can live a normal life or have a full life expectancy with the condition.

Let's explore the facts and factors that can affect the quality of life and longevity of people with diabetes.

Key Facts

  • According to the Office for National Statistics, newborn males can expect to live up to 77 years, while females may live up to 81. For people aged 65, the average man's lifespan extends to 83 years, while the average woman's life expectancy is around 85 years.

  • Diabetes can lead to complications like heart disease and kidney disease, which can affect life expectancy.
  • It is estimated that, on average, people with diabetes die six years earlier than people without diabetes.
  • The impact of diabetes on life expectancy largely depends on how soon a diagnosis is made, treatment commences, and how well the condition is managed. It also depends on any pre-existing condition and the progression of any diabetes complications.
  • Each decade of earlier diabetes diagnosis may result in about 3-4 years of lower life expectancy. This statistic highlights the need to develop and implement interventions that prevent or delay diabetes.

Understanding Diabetes and its Impact on Life Expectancy

Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high blood sugar levels. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes come from different causes: In type 1, the pancreas does not make insulin because the body's immune system mistakenly destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces less insulin than it used to, and your body becomes resistant to insulin.

Prolonged blood sugar levels as a result of type 1 or type 2 diabetes can cause severe complications and reduce life expectancy. The question now is, how is the life expectancy of type 1 diabetes similar or different from type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 Diabetes Life Expectancy

Before insulin was discovered in 1922, people with type 1 diabetes lived for only about three years after its onset.

Despite improvements in treatments like insulin, the life expectancy of people with type 1 diabetes is still lower compared to those without the condition. On average, people with type 1 diabetes lose around 12.2 years of life compared to the general population, though this has improved from about 27 years in 1975.

Men with type 1 diabetes live approximately 11.1 years less than men without the condition, while women live around 7.9 years less than women without the disease, mainly due to higher risks of cardiovascular events, which factors like insulin management, undertreatment, and hormonal differences may influence. This suggests the importance of personalized treatment for women to reduce complications and improve life expectancy.

Women with type 1 diabetes tend to die younger than men with the condition. This is true across all causes of death associated with diabetes, but the reasons are somewhat complex. However, some experts attribute women's shorter life expectancy with type 1 diabetes to the significant risks they face during pregnancy. But it could also be linked to the perception that heart disease is mainly associated with men, and this can make it more challenging to recognize it in women. Women may also not experience symptoms that have traditionally been considered typical for heart disease, further complicating diagnosis.

Type 2 Diabetes Life Expectancy

Statistically, while people living with type 2 diabetes die 6 years younger than those without the disease at 50, studies have found people with type 2 diabetes have a longer life expectancy than those with type 1 diabetes. This is because most cases of type 1 diabetes are diagnosed during childhood, meaning that the patient will spend a more extended period of their life with the condition along with the possible complications.

If you have type 2 diabetes, your risk of complications like heart attack, stroke, kidney issues, and cancer increases, and your life expectancy decreases, with earlier diagnosis resulting in significant reductions in life expectancy.

Research led by teams from the University of Cambridge and the University of Glasgow, analyzing data from over 1.5 million people, revealed that every decade earlier that type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, there's an average of four years less in life expectancy.

In the US, people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at ages 30, 40, and 50 tend to die around 14, 10, and 6 years earlier, respectively, with similar trends seen in the EU. Women generally experience slightly higher reductions in life expectancy than men as a result of type 2 diabetes.

Factors Affecting Life Expectancy in Diabetics

The longevity of people living with diabetes can be affected by factors like their age when they got the diagnosis, quality of healthcare, lifestyle, comorbidities, and complications.

Age

According to researchers, receiving a diagnosis at 30 can result in up to 14 years lower life expectancy. This figure drops significantly to only about 6 years shorter life expectancy if you are diagnosed at 50. This highlights the importance of the age at which you are diagnosed with the condition in determining how long you will live.

Quality of Healthcare

Poorly managed diabetes (poor glycemic control) leaves the patient with prolonged high sugar levels and A1c levels. This can increase the risk of complications and reduction of quality and expectancy of life.

Comorbidities

Diabetes comorbidities are conditions that usually coexist with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, usually as a result of diabetes-related complications.

Living with diabetes alone without any complications or comorbidities presents a good prognosis for diabetic patients, which translates to longer life expectancy.

However, comorbidities like kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and stroke can compound the disease and result in earlier fatalities.

Lifestyle

The success or failure of diabetes management has a lot to do with the patient's lifestyle. Unhealthy choices like poor diets, lack of physical activities, heavy smoking, and alcohol overconsumption can negatively influence diabetic life expectancy.

Eating high-carb and low-fiber foods without a blend of lean proteins and healthy fats can cause constant and prolonged high blood glucose levels and excessive weight gain. This can increase the chances of life-threatening complications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, CDC, smoking not only increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30%-40% but also makes insulin injections less effective in managing the condition. This can cause complications like neuropathy and nephropathy and reduce life expectancy.

The role of physical activities in improving diabetic life expectancy is often downplayed, and wrongly so. The CDC suggests that being active as a diabetic makes your body more sensitive to insulin, which is essential for improved diabetes management. Regular exercise also helps control blood sugar levels and lowers your risk of heart disease and nerve damage, which are the two major causes of diabetes-related fatalities.

Strategies for Improving Diabetic Life Expectancy

Improving your life expectancy with diabetes starts with learning about the disease and how to live with it.

To effectively manage diabetes and maximize life expectancy, staying active is crucial. Fortunately, you don't have to engage in strenuous workouts to achieve the desired results: Just 30 minutes of light exercises (like brisk walking or jogging) five days a week can help you live a healthier and longer.

Another critical strategy for improving your life expectancy is losing weight if you are overweight or obese. According to studies, a lower BMI can lead to an additional 2-3.9 years of life for people with diabetes. Specifically, lowering your BMI from 41.4 to 24.3 can add 3.9 years to your life expectancy.

Besides sticking with your doctor-prescribed diabetes medications, weight loss can be achieved through healthy lifestyles, like balanced, low-carb, high-fiber, protein-rich diets and physical activities. These measures will go a long way to improving your quality of life and promoting longevity with diabetes.

Most importantly, to live a healthier, longer life with diabetes, you have to monitor your blood glucose levels and ensure they don't stay too high or too low. Knowing your sugar levels will show you how your treatment plans, including diet, exercise routine, and medications, are working. And where things are not working out well, you can easily make the necessary adjustments.

It's also crucial to manage your stress levels as a diabetic. Studies have shown that stress can induce diabetes or worsen the condition if you have already been diagnosed. When stressed, your body releases catecholamines and increases glucocorticoid levels, leading to higher insulin requirements and insulin resistance. For people with diabetes, ongoing stress might contribute to persistent high blood sugar levels. Hence, managing your stress can help you control your glucose levels, manage diabetes, and live a healthier life.

It's common for people with diabetes to develop wounds that won't heal due to damaged nerves (diabetic neuropathy). This can increase the risk of infections that may lead to amputation and lower life expectancy. Avoiding such infections can promote longevity with diabetes.

Innovative technological advancements for diabetes management

Before the invention of insulin therapy in 1922, diabetes used to be a death sentence, with the average life expectancy after the disease onset around 3 years. However, there have been notable advancements in diabetes management in recent years, from introducing insulin pumps to other novel insulin delivery methods, such as nanomaterials for oral administration.

In 2023, many improved and affordable insulin formulations hit the market. New biosimilars have been approved, providing more affordable options for patients. A good example is Admelog (insulin lispro), an approved Humalog biosimilar. 

These advancements in diabetes management have significantly improved the life expectancy of people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Conclusion

The good news is that there is always time to make positive changes and take control of your health. If you have diabetes, you must work closely with your doctor and dietician to develop a personalized management plan based on your unique needs. Remember, the right approach is the roadmap to a healthier, longer life.

Sources

At Diabetic Me, we are committed to delivering information that is precise, accurate, and pertinent. Our articles are supported by verified data from research papers, prestigious organizations, academic institutions, and medical associations to guarantee the integrity and relevance of the information we provide. You can learn more about our process and team on the about us page.

  1. Diabetes.co.uk Diabetes Life Expectancy
  2. The Lancet Life expectancy associated with different ages at diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in high-income countries: 23 million person-years of observation
  3. CDC People With Diabetes Can Live Longer by Meeting Their Treatment Goals
  4. National Library of Medicine Life expectancy and survival analysis of patients with diabetes compared to the non diabetic population in Bulgaria
  5. University of Cambridge Type 2 diabetes diagnosis at age 30 can reduce life expectancy by up to 14 years
  6. CDC Smoking and Diabetes
  7. CDC Being More Active Is Better for You
  8. NIH 4 Steps to Manage Your Diabetes for Life
  9. JAMA Network Potential Gains in Life Expectancy Associated With Achieving Treatment Goals in US Adults With Type 2 Diabetes
  10. National Library of Medicine Stress-Induced Diabetes: A Review

About the Author

Ely Fornoville

Hi, I'm Ely Fornoville, and I am the founder of Diabetic Me. Being a type 1 diabetic since 1996, I developed a passion to help people learn more about diabetes. I write about diabetes and share stories from other diabetics around the world. I currently use a Medtronic Guardian 4 CGM and a MiniMed 780G insulin pump with Humalog insulin.

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