Life Expectancy with Type 2 Diabetes

If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you know how important it is to manage your blood sugar to keep your diabetes symptoms at bay. However, monitoring and treating your diabetes is about more than just keeping your blood sugar levels within the normal range. 

By living a healthier lifestyle and managing your diabetes, you reduce your chances of experiencing other health complications, which increases your life expectancy.

Here's what you should know about how type 2 diabetes could impact your life expectancy.

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What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a common health condition that occurs when your body doesn't produce or use insulin as it should. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas (an organ that lies behind your belly button). Insulin is responsible for helping glucose from the food you eat enter your body’s cells to be used for energy, much like a gate. 

When not enough insulin is produced, or the cells become resistant to insulin, the glucose builds up in your blood since it cannot enter the cells. This can lead to other health concerns, including heart and eye disease, nerve problems, and kidney failure.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes can affect people differently. Some individuals diagnosed with diabetes may experience many signs of the condition, while others don't notice any at all. 

The ability to recognize the signs of type 2 diabetes can help you schedule an appointment quickly with your healthcare provider if they occur. Doing so can help you get a diagnosis and treatment plan to prevent the disease from worsening and causing more problems. 

Signs of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination, particularly during the night

  • Feeling very hungry

  • Excessive thirst

  • Being very tired

  • Having sores that heal slowly

  • Having very dry skin

  • Experiencing more infections than usual

  • Having blurred vision

  • Experiencing numbness or tingling in your hands or feet

What are the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes?

While type 2 diabetes can affect anyone, it is most common among individuals who:

How does type 2 diabetes affect your life expectancy?

Type 2 diabetes affects between 90 and 95 percent of all people with diabetes, making it the most common type of diabetes. While diabetes is a serious disease that can negatively impact numerous other systems in your body, many factors must be considered when focusing on how type 2 diabetes can affect your life expectancy. 

It's common for people who die from complications of diabetes to have experienced health concerns as a result of their type 2 diabetes risk factors. Many of these risk factors can increase your chances of living a shorter life. 

Potential complications from type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can cause bothersome symptoms in the short term, such as urinating frequently or feeling unusually thirsty. However, it's the long-term complications that can stem from the condition that should be a primary concern for people who have been diagnosed with it.

These potential complications can vary from person to person but most commonly affect your eyes, kidneys, heart, and nerves. 

Vision problems

If you experience vision problems due to type 2 diabetes, it's most likely due to damaged blood vessels in your eyes. Type 2 diabetes can impact your eyes both in the short-term and the long-term. 

In the short-term, temporary vision loss is possible due to high blood sugar levels causing swelling in your eye tissue or impacting your eyes' fluid levels. When this happens, your vision will likely return to normal as soon as your blood sugar levels return to normal. In the long-term, however, damage to the blood vessels in your eyes could lead to bleeding, scarring, or very high pressure in your eyes.

Diabetic eye problems that could lead to long-term vision impairments or blindness include:

  • Diabetic retinopathy

  • Diabetic macular edema

  • Cataracts

  • Glaucoma

Because many diabetic eye problems can come on suddenly and do not exhibit any warning signs or symptoms, managing your type 2 diabetes and scheduling regular eye exams with your healthcare provider is very important. This is the best way to prevent long-term vision problems, some of which can be permanent, from developing and progressing.

Kidney disease

High blood sugar can cause damage to the blood vessels in your kidneys over time. More specifically, type 2 diabetes damages the glomeruli, which are millions of tiny filters structured like a “ball” and are made up of blood vessels that help filter blood inside your kidneys. 

As with other complications caused by type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease (CKD) typically develops slowly and rarely shows any symptoms. Because of this, many people with diabetes don't realize they have kidney disease until it is quite advanced and need significant treatments, such as dialysis (where their blood is filtered) or a kidney transplant. 

It's estimated that one out of every three people with diabetes will develop CKD. Because it is so common and doesn't usually exhibit noticeable symptoms until it's too late, it's best to have your healthcare provider monitor your kidney function with regular blood and urine tests. This is the most effective way to catch CKD early and establish a treatment plan before it progresses too far.

Heart disease

Type 2 diabetes can have a big impact on your overall cardiovascular health. When your blood sugar is high, it puts undue stress on your body. This can damage your blood vessels and nerves and decrease circulation over time as your heart has to work harder to deliver blood to your body’s tissues.

Making your heart work harder to get blood to the furthest tissues of your body, such as your feet and hands, can eventually cause your heart to become weak and eventually fail. According to the American Heart Association¹ (AHA), it's estimated that people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop fatal heart disease than people without diabetes.

Likewise, the AHA reports that 68 percent of people with diabetes over 65 will die from heart disease.

Stroke

Having high blood sugar for an extended period can cause the blood vessels throughout your body to narrow. When your blood vessels are narrower than they should be, it's harder for your heart to deliver oxygen to your organs through your blood, including your brain. 

If blood traveling to your brain has difficulty passing through your blood vessels or is blocked, you could experience a stroke. Likewise, blood vessels that become weak due to diabetes can rupture or burst, leading to a stroke.

Foot problems

Type 2 diabetes can lead to several foot problems over time. This is primarily due to nerve damage, also known as diabetic neuropathy. This can cause your feet to tingle, experience pain, and lose feeling altogether.

Not feeling your feet can be problematic because you may not notice minor injuries such as a cut or blister on your foot, leading to more serious complications, such as an infection.

Diabetes can also lead to poor circulation in your feet. When your feet don't have adequate blood flow, the sores and infections you experience in your feet and legs can take a long time to heal. In some cases, infections may never heal and lead to gangrene. 

Gangrene and ulcers on your feet that don't respond to treatment may require that you have a toe, foot, or part of your leg amputated to prevent the infection from spreading to other areas of your body and, in severe instances, save your life.

High blood pressure

Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, go hand in hand. Because they often occur together and share the same risk factors, including living a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, and making poor dietary choices, it can be difficult to determine which condition came first. This is especially true since hypertension rarely exhibits any signs or symptoms in the early stages.

You may live with it for years before being diagnosed with the condition. 

As with other complications caused by type 2 diabetes, however, the damage that the disease can cause in your blood vessels and kidneys can make your heart work harder than normal to deliver oxygen-rich blood around your body. Over time, this can cause your blood pressure to rise. 

How to prevent complications from type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a life-long condition that has no cure. If not closely managed, type 2 diabetes can negatively affect many other systems in your body. The good news is that when properly managed, it's possible to prevent complications from type 2 diabetes from contributing to other health problems.

Here are some statistics² from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that highlight the positive impact that proactive diabetes management can have on your overall health:

  • Effectively managing your blood sugar can lower your chances of developing an eye, nerve, and kidney disease by 40 percent.

  • Routine eye exams and quick treatment for eye problems could prevent up to 90 percent of blindness caused by type 2 diabetes.

  • Improving your cholesterol levels can reduce heart problems by 20 to 50 percent. Similarly, managing your blood pressure can lower your chance of developing heart disease or having a stroke by 33 to 50 percent.

  • Identifying and treating early diabetic kidney disease using medicines that protect your kidneys while lowering blood pressure can decrease impaired diabetic kidney function by 33 to 37 percent.

  • Having access to regular foot examinations and diabetes education could prevent as many as 85 percent of amputations caused by type 2 diabetes.

How can I increase my life expectancy with type 2 diabetes?

Taking steps to live a healthy lifestyle is a good way for anyone to increase their life expectancy, regardless of whether they've been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or not. While this is true, people with type 2 diabetes need to pay careful attention to their health, which means monitoring their condition closely. 

Taking these steps could help keep your diabetes symptoms under control, prevent the disease from causing other complications, and, most importantly, help you live a longer life.

Staying active

Living a sedentary lifestyle can put you at a higher risk of developing diabetes and experiencing complications from it if you've already been diagnosed with it. 

Incorporating regular exercise into your daily routine is a proactive way to manage your condition and prevent it from leading to more serious health concerns. This doesn't mean that you have to go to the gym every day or do strenuous workouts. 

On the contrary, incorporating 30 minutes of light exercise five days a week, such as going for a brisk walk or swimming, is all it will take to live a healthier (and potentially longer) life. Exercise not only helps manage your weight, which is important for people with type 2 diabetes, but it will also help your body's cells turn the glucose in your blood into energy more efficiently.

Eating a well-balanced diet

The food and drinks you consume can have a tremendous effect on your type 2 diabetes. For instance, eating foods high in fat and sugar can make it more difficult to keep your blood sugar levels under control. This can lead to other health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. 

On the other hand, eating a balanced diet low in fat and sugar, high in protein, and filled with nutrients, such as fiber, can help manage your diabetes easier. It can also help keep your weight under control, boost your immunity to fight off infections, and help you feel energized to be more likely to exercise.

With this in mind, it's worth making the necessary changes to your diet to manage your diabetes and improve your overall health.

Monitoring your blood sugar

The most important step you can take to control your type 2 diabetes is regularly monitoring your blood sugar levels. These numbers will let you know if your treatment plan, such as diet, exercise routine, and medications, is working, and if not, allow you to make changes to improve your blood sugar levels. 

Being aware of your blood sugar levels can also help prevent or delay the potential complications caused by diabetes, including heart disease, stroke, blindness and vision problems, and kidney disease. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about how often you should be checking your blood sugar levels and which blood sugar meter would be best for your particular lifestyle.

Maintaining a healthy weight

Obesity is associated with up to 44 percent of type 2 diabetes cases. Being overweight, particularly around your abdomen, makes you more likely to develop high blood sugar and can also lead to an array of other serious health conditions, including heart disease and hypertension. 

Additionally, being obese and having diabetes increases your mortality risk 7-fold. If you're a person with diabetes who is overweight, losing weight is one of the most effective ways to prevent your condition from getting worse, prevent other serious medical conditions, and increase your life expectancy.

Taking your prescribed diabetes medications

If you're diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your doctor may prescribe medications to help manage your condition, such as insulin or Metformin. Taking your medications as directed is important for keeping your blood sugar levels under control. 

Even if you see an improvement in your symptoms or you start to feel better, continuing to take your medications is critical unless your doctor instructs you to do otherwise. You're likely feeling better because you've been taking your medications, and stopping abruptly or prematurely will only make the condition worse. 

Managing stress

Studies³ show that experiencing psychological stress for an extended period can increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes and other comorbidities. Because of this, it's worth taking the time and effort to manage the stress you experience in your professional and personal life to keep it to a minimum. 

Consider making time each week to do activities you enjoy, such as spending time with a friend or going for a bike ride. Doing so won't just make you feel better but may also help manage your type 2 diabetes and live a longer life.

Preventing infections

One of the most common side effects of type 2 diabetes is experiencing wounds that are slow to heal, caused primarily by damage to your blood vessels and nerves. When your wounds heal slowly, you're more likely to develop infections that can spread to other parts of your body or lead to an amputation.

For this reason, it's important to prevent infections by boosting your immune system as much as possible. Staying active, eating a nutritious diet, and taking excellent care of your feet are proactive steps that you can take to prevent infections with type 2 diabetes.

Quitting cigarettes

It's no secret that smoking cigarettes can lead to type 2 diabetes due to how nicotine changes your cells — making them stop responding to insulin. This, in turn, increases your blood sugar levels. Additionally, chemicals in cigarettes harm the cells in your body and cause inflammation.

Smoking can also make the condition harder to manage once you have developed type 2 diabetes. The nicotine found in cigarettes increases your blood sugar levels, making them harder to keep under control. Additionally, smokers with diabetes often require more insulin to manage their condition. They're also more likely to experience complications from diabetes than people with diabetes who don't smoke. 

If you've been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, quitting smoking is one step that can be incredibly beneficial for managing your condition, improving your overall health, and increasing your life expectancy.

If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, don't hesitate to talk with your doctor about the best ways to monitor your condition, prevent it from progressing, and possibly increase your life expectancy. Together you can create a treatment plan catered to your unique needs and personal preferences to help you live the healthiest life possible.

The lowdown

Type 2 diabetes is a serious health condition that affects one out of ten adults in America. Because type 2 diabetes can affect other areas of your body, including your heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves, it can lead to other long-term health concerns and even decrease your life expectancy if not carefully treated. 

Depending on your circumstances, you can take steps to keep your type 2 diabetes under control. These include monitoring your blood sugar, making lifestyle changes, and taking your prescribed medications. These steps can also prevent other long-term health complications like heart disease, kidney failure, and nerve and vision problems. 

With the help of your doctor, you can take proactive steps to lose weight, exercise more, eat better, and quit smoking, which can increase your chances of living a longer life with type 2 diabetes. 

  1. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes | Heart Attack and Stroke Symptoms

  2. Cost-effectiveness of diabetes interventions | Center for Disease Control and Prevention

  3. Stress increases the risk of type 2 diabetes onset in women: A 12-year longitudinal study using causal modelling (2017)

Other sources:

Have you considered clinical trials for Type 2 diabetes?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Type 2 diabetes, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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