After being diagnosed with diabetes, you may be concerned about the impact the condition will have on your life expectancy.
Receiving such news can be a shock and it is common to feel overwhelmed following a diagnosis, especially if you are unfamiliar with diabetes.
While you might want to understand how diabetes will affect your life expectancy, there is no straightforward answer. Regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, many factors can influence your lifespan, including:
- How soon your diabetes was diagnosed.
- The progression of diabetes-related complications.
- If you have other pre-existing conditions.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a metabolic condition where there is a higher amount of sugar or glucose in your body than normal.
Hyperglycaemia is the term used to describe an excess of glucose in your bloodstream. Too much sugar in your blood can be very dangerous, causing severe damage to organs and increasing the risk of other health complications such as cardiovascular disease.
The hormone insulin regulates glucose levels by telling the body to break it down into energy.
- In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells responsible for producing insulin, meaning the body cannot take glucose from the blood to use as energy.
- In type 2 diabetes, the body cannot produce enough insulin or the cells in the body can no longer respond to it, also known as insulin resistance.
How long can people with diabetes expect to live?
The Office for National Statistics estimates life expectancy amongst new births to be:
- 77 years for males
- 81 years for females
Amongst those who are currently 65 years old, the average man can expect to live until 83 years old and the average woman to live until 85 years old.
Diabetes UK estimates in its report, Diabetes in the UK 2010: Key Statistics on Diabetes, that the life expectancy of someone with type 2 diabetes is likely to be reduced, as a result of the condition, by up to 10 years.
People with type 1 diabetes have traditionally lived shorter lives, with life expectancy having been quoted as being reduced by over 20 years.
However, improvements in diabetes care in recent decades indicates that people with type 1 diabetes are now living significantly longer.
Results of a 30 year study by the University of Pittsburgh, published in 2012, noted that people with type 1 diabetes born after 1965 had a life expectancy of 69 years.
Why do people with diabetes have a shorter life expectancy?
Over time, unregulated blood sugar levels can cause various short and long-term complications.
- Diabetic retinopathy is a type of eye disease usually affecting people who have had diabetes for several years. Excess blood glucose damages blood vessels in the retina at the back of your eyes, causing vision loss and, in some cases, blindness.
- Kidney disease in people with diabetes is commonly known as diabetic nephropathy. Around 40% of people living with diabetes will develop nephropathy due to damaged blood vessels in the kidneys, with the organs no longer able to filter waste out of the bloodstream. If the disease progresses, you may have kidney failure and could require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
- Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, is prevalent in people with diabetes due to impaired blood flow caused by hyperglycaemia. Heart disease can lead to angina (chest pain), heart attack and stroke.
Higher blood sugars are often be accompanied by associated conditions such as
How can I increase my life expectancy?
Maintaining good blood glucose control is a key way to prolong the length of your life.
By attaining the recommended blood sugar levels for someone with diabetes, you can minimise the risk of complications arising from having too much glucose in your blood.
Find out the blood glucose levels you should be aiming for here.
Enjoying a healthy lifestyle and following a diabetes-friendly diet also contributes to better control of your condition.
A low carb diet can help improve blood sugar stability in type 1 and type 2 diabetes because carbohydrates significantly impact your blood glucose levels. For some people with type 2 diabetes, a low carb diet has even put their diabetes into remission.
Why is life expectancy lower for people with type 1 diabetes?
People are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes at a younger age than those with type 2. Therefore, they will usually spend a longer period of their life with the condition and the ensuing complications.
However, some people far exceed the life expectancy of those with type 1 diabetes. Such as Bob Krause, an American man who lived with the condition until he passed away in 2012. Bob managed his diabetes with diligence, meticulously keeping track of his blood sugar levels throughout his life –even before helpful technology such as blood glucose monitors.
“Even to his last breath his blood sugar was normal and he was checking every two days before he died,” Bob’s daughter said. “So you could say he beat diabetes all the way to the end. His life gave hope to so many.”
You can read more about Bob Krause’s inspiring story here.
As shown, recent studies into life expectancy suggest a significant improvement in life expectancy rates for people with type 1 diabetes who were born later in the 20th century.
Recent research has also shown that technological advancements and improvements in diabetes care have made it easier to detect the condition earlier, leading to medical interventions and better management of its complications.
Find out about some of these developments below:
- Technological advances have increased the life expectancy of people with type 1 diabetes
- Life expectancy for type 1 diabetes improving
Is type 2 diabetes less serious than type 1?
Type 2 diabetes often develops slower than type 1 diabetes.
As a result, people might be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (and some other types of diabetes) years after they first developed the condition. Unfortunately, type 2 diabetes might be diagnosed after noticing the signs of other health complications.
Will diabetes affect my life insurance?
You might be worried that you will not be able to take out a life insurance policy because of your condition.
We can provide support in finding the right life insurance policy for you. With over two decades of experience, our diabetes life insurance experts will compare insurance from the UK’s top providers, matching you with an insurance policy that meets your needs.
Click here for a free diabetic life insurance quote or more information about life insurance and diabetes.
Where can I find support?
Whether you’re newly diagnosed, have questions and would like support, or have lived with diabetes for many years and want to talk to other members of the community, the forum is the perfect place to get started.