Diabetes, for far too long, has been characterized as a condition that shortens the life expectancy. Earlier, it was a condition that was diagnosed in people in their late forties or fifties. According to a study in 2010, diabetes cuts off an average 8.5 years from the lifespan of a 50-year-old man with diabetes as compared to the one without diabetes.
Over the years, easy availability of processed foods, sedentary lifestyle and stress, diabetes is affecting millions of young adults today.
What Causes a Shorter Lifespan for Diabetes Patients?
High blood sugar damages the blood vessels, nerves causing poor circulation and functioning of important organs like the heart, kidney, and eyes leading to complications such as heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney disease if diabetes is left uncontrolled. It is accompanied by high blood pressure and cholesterol that further damages the organ systems. Short-term complications like hypoglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis can also be fatal.
The lifespan of Individuals Living with Type 1 diabetes:
People with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin that causes the building of excess glucose in the blood. People who have been diagnosed with this condition have to be given insulin supplements to maintain the glucose levels.
People with this condition are diagnosed in their youth, hence these people have to live with this condition for a relatively long period of time than people with type 2 diabetes.
According to the reports of Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA); men with type 1 diabetes have a shortened lifespan of 11 years than normal men. Women with the condition have their lives cut short by 13 years.
The impact on the heart health appears to be one of the leading causes for this. However, it has also been found that adults with type 1 diabetes younger than 50 years of age have been dying from the conditions caused by the issues in the management of the disease – diabetic coma caused by extremely low blood sugar levels and/or ketoacidosis caused by lack of insulin in the body.
Type 1 diabetes is extremely cumbersome to manage with the concern to get the right amount of insulin be delivered at the right time of the day keeping in mind the diet that one is consuming.
Another report by the JAMA stated the early deaths can be avoided by providing intensive blood sugar management wherein a constant tab is kept on the blood glucose levels of people with this condition by conducting multiple blood glucose tests throughout the day and constantly adjusting insulin levels to achieve specific levels. Such intensive monitoring and maintenance are more easily achievable these days because of the recent technological advances in the management of the disease.
The lifespan of Individuals Living with Type 2 diabetes:
People with type 2 diabetes cannot utilize the insulin produced by the pancreas leading to accumulation of glucose in the blood. While type 2 develops much later in life than type 1, it remains undiagnosed for years in which the host can develop other health complications. Type 2 diabetes is more of an inflammatory disease, hence it is more damaging to the body.
A 2010 report by the Diabetes UK claims that type 2 diabetes reduces the lifespan by 10 years. A 2012 Canadian study claimed that women aged over 55 years with type 2 diabetes lost on an average of 6 years while men lost 5.
Most of this early death comes from complications such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. People with the condition also tend to be depressed and inactive all of which tend to make the lifespan shorter.
However, a recent Dutch study found encouraging results that people with type 2 diabetes and an average age of 66 tend to have the same death rate as those without diabetes.
The lifespan of Individuals living with Type 3 diabetes:
Type 3 diabetes, also called Gestational Diabetes, develops when women experience an onset of elevated blood sugar levels in pregnancy. It develops when the woman’s body is not able to make and effectively use the insulin it needs for pregnancy. With little insulin, glucose builds up in the blood to high levels.
Women with uncontrolled gestational diabetes tend to have a higher risk of having infants with heavyweight, which can cause complications during labor. There is also an increased risk for high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes to both the mother and the child. These further complicate matters during labor and if uncontrolled, can cause the death of both the mother and the infant.
Gestational diabetes develops during the late phase of pregnancy. If properly managed, blood sugar levels usually return back to normal after delivery. However, if the sugar levels are not kept in check during pregnancy, it can pose a risk for the development of type 2 diabetes to women. The lifespan of such women with type 2 diabetes will be similar to the relations and statistics associated with type 2 diabetes.
The lifespan of Individuals with Prediabetes:
Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not enough to be classified as diabetes. Generally, people with this condition have blood glucose levels in the following range;
- Fasting: between 100mg/dl and 126mg/dl (Diabetes – above 126mg/dl)
- After meals: between 140 and 200mg/dl (Diabetes above 200mg/dl)
It can progress to type 2 diabetes unless the blood sugar levels are controlled. It is a common misunderstanding that prediabetes is not a health risk unless it progresses to type 2. Any amount of increased blood sugar is harmful to the body, putting the affected people at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke and kidney problems.
A study performed at a Health Center in Detroit showed that 36% of the prediabetes patients had coronary heart disease with diabetes patients showing 42%; which is much higher than the normal people (21%). Hence prediabetes should well be considered as a stage 1 diabetes. Once the prediabetes status of the patient progresses to type 2 diabetes, it is subjected to the same lifespan risks associated with type 2.
People are usually unaware of the condition. Hence, the first critical step in prediabetes management should be to increase awareness of the condition, to prevent its advancement to type 2 diabetes.
What can improve lifespan?
Studies have indicated that a longer life for those living with type 2 diabetes can be achieved by more active and routine screening for the disease and blood-sugar levels, increased diligence taking medication and increased focus on diet and lifestyle modifications including stress management.
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