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Life Expectancy in Type 2 Diabetes

Life Expectancy in Type 2 Diabetes

Your diagnosis just came in. You have Type 2 diabetes. It’s a shock, and your first question is “What is my Type 2 diabetes life expectancy?” There’s no easy answer to this, but the news might be better than you thought. To a large extent, how long you’re able to live with Type 2 diabetes will be up to you and how well you manage your condition. Let’s explore this topic together. 

Can Type 2 Diabetes Kill You?

Research studies suggest that poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes can reduce life expectancy by 10 years. However, there is a lot you can do about this.

People die early with poorly controlled diabetes because high blood glucose levels, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels increase the risk of complications like heart attacks, strokes or kidney failure.

But recent research studies show that mortality rates for people with Type 2 diabetes are going down and people are living longer with the condition (1). This is because we are getting better at preventing heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure. 

Does Type 2 Diabetes Reduce Life Expectancy?

There are certainly studies that show average reductions in life expectancy for people with Type 2 diabetes. According to the latest research, the average person with Type 2 diabetes faces death two years before his or her Diabetes-free counterparts. That’s not a lot. But do remember that this figure is an average. 

Can Type 2 diabetes kill you? In a worst-case scenario, diabetes and its many complications can lead to an early death. But if you’re able to manage your condition well, it’s quite possible that you’ll live as long as you would have if you didn’t have diabetes. 

There’s even a possibility that adopting healthy lifestyle changes can help you to live longer than you would have if you hadn’t been made aware of the need to take better care of yourself. For example, you may work on losing weight, and obesity is a huge health risk. 

But what if you’re still relatively young? Will being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at 30 change life expectancy? The answer remains the same. You’ll have to take care of yourself, but if you do, you could live as long, nearly as long, or possibly even longer than you would have without Diabetes. 

What Increases the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Causing Premature Death?

While there’s cause for optimism when facing Type 2 diabetes, it would be wrong to believe that you can rest on your laurels. Diabetes complications mean that you have a greater chance of heart attacks, stroke, and cancer. You could develop kidney trouble, lose a limb or go blind. 

Cardiovascular disease is one of your primary concerns. Have your blood pressure checked and ask your doctor to check your cholesterol and triglyceride levels to determine your level of risk. Mitigate risk by quitting smoking, cutting out alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting regular exercise. 

Watch out for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). It occurs when your blood sugar is high and your insulin is low. The body decides to break down fat and ketones are released into your bloodstream. If your blood sugar is particularly high or you are ill, you should test yourself for ketones every four to six hours. If the results show moderate or high ketone levels, consult a doctor immediately. This is a medical emergency!

On the bright side, increased risk of a range of health problems is not the same as inevitability. Manage your condition well, and your risk of complications is drastically reduced. Once again, the ball’s in your court. Maximise your chances of having a long and productive life by following doctors’ advice and taking time to look after your health. 

Tips for a Better Life Expectancy with Type 2 Diabetes

We’ve already touched on some of the ways you can improve your chances of living out your normal lifespan. Let’s bring them all together here. Healthy eating is the best place to begin. Combine that with exercise, which has benefits of its own, and you’ll also lose weight if you are overweight or obese. Talk to your doctor to find out what types of exercise will be best for you and build them into your routine. 

Monitor your blood sugar levels in line with your doctor’s recommendations. Record your findings in your diary, and see if you can find links between your blood sugar and your diet. Follow your treatment plan diligently and medicate accordingly. Your aim is to keep your blood sugar levels within the healthy range, and if you succeed in doing so, you reduce your chances of experiencing diabetes-related complications. 

Apart from minding your overall health, you will need to pay special attention to your feet. Sores can easily become infected owing to poor blood circulation and peripheral neuropathy may mean that you hardly feel them. Ulcers can develop, and if left untreated, a need for amputation

Here are some examples of things that can be done to increase life expectancy in Type 2 diabetes (2):

  • Reducing blood pressure (systolic) from 160 to 114mmHg: Increased life expectancy by 2 years
  • Improving blood glucose control (HbA1c) from 85mmol/mol (9.9%)  to 61mmol/mol (7.7%): Increased life expectancy by more than 3 years
  • Lowering weight (BMI) from very overweight to normal weight: Increased life expectancy by 4 years
  • Lowering harmful cholesterol levels (LDL): Increased life expectancy by 1 year

Doing these things can increase the quantity of life, and quality of life. 

Reducing the risk of complications from Type 2 diabetes helps you live longer and healthier, and there are many things that your health professionals can do to help you achieve this. It may seem a bit odd when your nurse or doctor focuses on your blood pressure, cholesterol or weight during your annual diabetes check – but this is why. There is a lot more to improving life expectancy in Type 2 diabetes than just lowering blood glucose levels.

Diabetes, Reduced Life Expectancy, and Life Insurance

Since diabetes outcomes are largely dependent on how well you manage your health, it may seem grossly unfair that insurance companies seem to automatically decide you’re a bad risk if you have Type 2 diabetes. Some companies don’t want to insure you at all, while others will demand higher premiums and expect you to go through a lengthy approval process. You find yourself wishing that insurers would see you as an individual instead of lumping you in with worst-case-scenario statistics. 

Just as there’s hope for your life-expectancy being good if you play your cards right, you can also eliminate the pain of finding an insurance policy. It all starts with Bluezone, a unique insurance company that has your interests at heart.  We specialise in life insurance for people living with Type 2 diabetes. And we want to be your partners in wellness too. Talk to us today. 

References:

1. Chen, L., Islam, R.M., Wang, J. et al. A systematic review of trends in all-cause mortality among people with diabetes. Diabetologia 63, 1718–1735 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-020-05199-0

2. Kianmehr H, Zhang P, Luo J, et al. Potential Gains in Life Expectancy Associated With Achieving Treatment Goals in US Adults With Type 2 Diabetes. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(4):e227705. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.7705

Posted by
Dr. Kingshuk Pal
Clinical Lead
Kingshuk is an academic GP. He is interested in the development of internet tools for managing chronic illness, with a PhD from University College London titled Development of an online self-management intervention for adults with type 2 diabetes. This was translated into HeLP-Diabetes and is being scaled across the NHS.
The advice we are providing is as accurate and as comprehensive as possible, but it is only general advice and should not be used as a substitute for the individual advice you might receive from consulting your qualified medical practitioner. Please ensure you consult a qualified medical professional before making any changes to your healthcare.