Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a serious disease that can lessen your life expectancy. There are several different types of diabetes, and all of them can have a negative impact on your health with a risk of death if left untreated. In this article, we will discuss the different types of diabetes and how each can impact your life expectancy. We will also examine the complications and risk factors and if there is any way to prevent diabetes so you can live a long, healthy life.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition that affects how the body uses glucose, also called blood sugar, for energy. Glucose comes from the food we eat and your cells use the hormone insulin to process it. When diabetes occurs, there is too much glucose in your blood because either the body does not make enough insulin or it cannot use insulin properly. A high level of glucose can damage nerves and blood vessels along with other medical problems ranging in severity.
What are the different types of diabetes?
Diabetes is a group of chronic diseases and there are three common forms of it. The three most common forms of diabetes include:
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It usually develops in children or young adults but it can start at any age. With a type 1 diabetes diagnosis, you will need to take insulin injections or use an insulin pump for the rest of your life and it is not preventable.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is when your body does not use insulin properly due to insulin resistance and is the most common form of diabetes. It usually develops in adults but it is now also occurring in children due to obesity. If you have type 2 diabetes, you can often control it through a healthy diet, exercise, and weight loss although treatment with medications such as insulin may also be required. Type 2 diabetes can usually be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices.
Gestational diabetes is when a woman has high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. It usually develops around the 24th week of pregnancy and goes away after your baby is born but it does increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes for both you and your child later in life.
We will be focusing on the life expectancy of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes as gestational diabetes is temporary and goes away soon after birth.
What are the different risk factors for diabetes?
The risk factors for diabetes are dependent on the type of diabetes you have. Risk factors for each type include:
Type 1 diabetes risk factors
- Age – Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children or young adults but it can develop at any age
- Family history – You are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes if a close relative has it
- Environmental factors – It is uncertain to what extent environmental factors play in the development of type 1 diabetes but it is known that exposure to certain viruses increases your risk for it
- Race – If you are white you have a higher chance of developing this disease
Type 2 diabetes risk factors
- Age – Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adults
- Weight – Being overweight or obese is the main risk factor for type 2 diabetes
- Family history – You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if there is a family history of diabetes
- Inactivity – If you are physically inactive you have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes
- Race – African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes
- Gestational diabetes – Women who have had gestational diabetes and their children who were born when they had it also have a higher risk
- Polycystic ovary syndrome – A disorder that affects a woman’s hormone levels which can increase the risk for diabetes
- Birthweight of children – You are more at risk for type 2 diabetes if you have given birth to a child weighing over 9 pounds
- High blood pressure –Diabetes and high blood pressure often go hand in hand
- Cholesterol levels –Low levels of HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, which is the “good” cholesterol put you at a higher risk too
- Triglyceride levels – Triglycerides are fats that are in your blood and put you at a higher risk if they are at high levels
If you or your child are at risk of diabetes, please see your doctor, pediatrician, or health care provider for a possible diagnosis of diabetes.
What are the different complications caused by diabetes?
Diabetes can cause a number of different complications including:
- Heart disease and stroke – Diabetes increases your risk of having cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke
- High blood pressure – Not only is high blood pressure a risk factor for type 2 diabetes but it also can be caused by diabetes
- Kidney disease – It is the leading cause of kidney failure and chronic kidney diseases
- Nerve damage – Damage to the nerves, also called neuropathy, is a common complication that can cause problems such as sexual dysfunction, digestive issues, and foot ulcers
- Eye problems – The leading cause of blindness is diabetes
- Foot problems – Due to infections and circulation problems in your feet, diabetes can lead to amputations if severe enough
- Skin conditions – Skin conditions, such as bacterial and fungal infections, occur more often if you have diabetes
- Hearing loss – You are at a greater risk for hearing loss if you have it
- Alzheimer’s disease – Diabetes has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Depression – There is an increased risk for depression if you have it
How can diabetes impact your life expectancy?
If diabetes is not managed properly it can lead to serious health complications that can reduce your life expectancy. In a report published in the UK, it was found that type 2 diabetes can decrease your life expectancy by up to 10 years. A 30-year University of Pittsburgh study also noted that the average life expectancy of type 1 diabetes, if you were born after 1965 in the United States, is 69 years old. The average life expectancy at birth in the United States in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is 75.1 years old for men and 80.5 years old for women, which means diabetes can, on average, account for differences in life expectancy of 6.1 years if you are a man and 11.5 years average reduction if you are a woman. Therefore, it is important to manage diabetes properly to improve your life expectancy and quality of life.
What causes a shorter life expectancy in diabetics?
The complications listed above are one of the main reasons there is a difference in life expectancy if you are diabetic and why your life expectancy may be shorter than normal. Diabetes can lead to serious health complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, and eye problems which can all reduce your life expectancy. Poorly managed diabetes can also result in a shorter life expectancy. If you have diabetes it is important to take any prescriptions as prescribed by your doctor while maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise.
Is there any way to prevent diabetes?
There is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. However, you usually can prevent type 2 diabetes through healthy lifestyle choices. Some diabetes risk factors such as family history, age, and ethnicity cannot be changed but you can change diabetes risk factors such as obesity, inactivity, stress levels, and poor diet.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that leads to elevated blood glucose levels due to your body not producing insulin anymore or not reacting to it. It can also lead to a number of complications that can cause a reduced life expectancy so it is important to manage diabetes properly. You can prevent type 2 diabetes by making healthy lifestyle choices but there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. If you have diabetes, it’s important to see your doctor regularly and to manage your diabetes through monitoring your blood sugar levels, diet, active lifestyle, and medication. Doing so will help reduce your risk of developing complications from diabetes which should help with the improvement in life expectancy and lead to a healthier lifestyle. If you have any more questions please talk to your doctor or health care provider.
References and Sources:
Fact Checked and Editorial Process
Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
Owner, entrepreneur, and consumer health enthusiast.